Ricotta-filled sfincis and custard-filled zeppoles are two similar yet distinct Italian pastries. Both are traditionally enjoyed in Italy around St. Joseph's Day, the birthday of Jesus' father, which is celebrated on March 19. (But you can get them both year-round.)
"Us Italians, we love to celebrate saints," explained Emanuele Alaimo, Jr., "Manny," of Villabate Alba, a beloved bakery in Bensonhurst. "To honor them, we made a pastry."
Both are available at Villabate, which has been run by the Alaimo family for 40 years. But the family hails from Sicily and prefer the sfinci.
In Sicily, everything is ricotta. For us, ricotta is number one," said Alaimo. "Up north [in Italy], their version is custard."
The demand for the pastries became a year-round thing, so Villabate had to leave behind tradition, and start giving the people what they wanted. So if you can't get to Villabate by Wednesday, you've got the rest of the year.
These are sfincis
This pastry is traditionally enjoyed in Sicily for St. Joseph's Day. At Villabate Alba, (7001 18th Ave., 718-331-8430) they are filled with sheep's milk ricotta cheese imported from Italy, and are topped with a dried cherry and orange slice. The ricotta filling is also what fills cannolis, thus lending it the synonymous name "cannoli cream." The pastry is light yet has a bit of a chew, and the ricotta is creamy and thick. This is not a sweet dessert, but one that could be enjoyed in the morning too, if you're adventurous. The sheep's milk lends the ricotta a grassy and rich flavor.(Credit: Georgia Kral)
These are zeppoles
These are not the zeppoles you get at the street fair. At Villabate, they're filled with custard, made with milk, eggs and vanilla, and topped with an Amarena cherry, which is slightly bitter. While also not as sweet as one might expect, the zeppole filling is sweeter than the sfinci filling.(Credit: Georgia Kral)
Here is the sfinci in all its glory
The thick and creamy ricotta filling is calling out to you.. do you hear it? (Credit: Georgia Kral)
Take a closer look at the inside
Airy pockets, rich ricotta and powdered sugar come together to create a masterpiece. (Credit: Georgia Kral)
OMG. Do you see what I see?
The inside of the sfinci is downright gorgeous. (Credit: Georgia Kral)
Check out the custard in this zeppole
Manny Alaimo Jr. said people who grew up in Bensonhurst or nearby and have since moved come back for pastries on holidays and weekends. "It brings them back to their childhood," he said. Wouldn't you like a zeppole like this one whenever you could get it?(Credit: Georgia Kral)
Yes, there's an extra cherry inside the zeppole!
The Villabate zeppole is a little like a donut. There's a hole in the middle.(Credit: Georgia Kral)
Lots and lots of custard
Just look at how much luscious custard fills this zeppole. This is no joke. (Credit: Georgia Kral)
To try these pastries for yourself, take a trip out to Villabate Alba in Bensonhurst. (Credit: Georgia Kral)