Zeppole di San Giuseppe
from Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy
Pastry Puffs
2¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups water
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
3½ tablespoons lard
6 large eggs

Almond Pastry Cream

1/3 cup or cornstarch
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Maraschino cherries, drained and halved for decorating

Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Grease and flour a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
 
Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together and set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the water, add the butter and lard, and when melted, remove pan from the stove and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat with a wooden spoon, then return the pan to medium-high heat, beating the mixture until it comes away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and add the eggs one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon or hand mixer to blend each in well before adding the next egg.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch nozzle with some of the cream puff mixture. Squeeze out 3-inch puffs about ½ inch apart on cookie sheet. Bake the cream puffs about 20 minutes or until golden brown. When done, carefully slit the side of each cream puff with a knife to allow steam to escape and prevent the puffs from becoming soggy inside. Transfer the cream puffs to cooling racks.

In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and sugar for the filling. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and butter over medium-high heat until the butter melts. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook over medium heat until it starts to thicken, about 2 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and slowly add the eggs, beating well. Return the mixture to the heat for just a few seconds to cook the mixture, being careful not to scramble the eggs. Pour the filling into a bowl, add the almond extract, and blend. Cover with buttered waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve, use a small knife to cut off the top third of each cream puff. Add about 1/4 cups filling (more if the puffs are larger), replace the tops, and put puffs on a decorative platter. Dust with confectioner's sugar and pipe a dollop of cream on top. Top with a cherry half and serve immediately.

The pastry shells can be made ahead and frozen, and the filling can be made a day before serving. The lard is what makes the recipe authentic, but you may use all butter.