I’m not Italian. Of the many Eastern & Western European & other nationalities I am, Italian is not one of them. It’s practically the only one I’m missing. But I’ve hung out with enough Italians, & eaten with enough Italians, including one of my uncles (by marriage) to know a lot about Italia. I’ve probably watched more RAI and eaten just as much cannoli as the average Italian-American. I also went to Catholic school which, in true stereo-typical form, had an equal population of Irish-American and Italian-American students (not to say there weren’t plenty of other nationalities & ethnicities represented as well), and I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph… so I know things like who St. Joseph is, & when his feast day is, even if I don’t believe in that stuff. And by that stuff I mean religious mumbo-jumbo, not that there was once a dude named Joseph. I know there are lots of those. I mean I know at least 6 myself!
In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron Saint, and many Italian-American communities, thanks are given to St. Joseph (“San Giuseppe” in Italian) for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph’s Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph’s Day custom. In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Sicilian pastry known as a zeppola on St. Joseph’s Day. Sweets are popular because St. Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs.
Upon a typical St. Joseph’s Day altar, people place flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies (as well as other meatless dishes), and zeppole. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter. Because the feast occurs during Lent, traditionally no meat was allowed on the celebration table. The altar usually has three tiers, to represent the trinity.
Some villages like Belmonte Mezzagno used to burn wood and logs in squares on the day before St.Joseph, as thanksgiving to the Saint. This is called “A Vampa di San Giuseppe” (the Saint Joseph’s bonfire).
In Italy March 19 is also Father’s Day.
Saint Joseph’s Day is also celebrated in other American communities with high proportions of Italians such as New York City; Kansas City, MO; Buffalo; Chicago; Gloucester, Mass.; and Providence, Rhode Island, where observance (which takes place just after Saint Patrick’s Day) often is expressed through “the wearing of the red”, i.e., wearing red clothing or accessories similar to the wearing of green on Saint Patrick’s Day. The observance of St Joseph’s Day (and wearing of red) by Italian Americans communities which are also home to significant Irish American communities can take on the overtone of a challenge by the Italian Americans to the power and relevance of those Irish communities and Saint Patrick’s Day.
Yeah, I’m fairly sure that photo I created there will offend someone. Eh. I do what I can. I never said this website was endorsed by the Vatican.
Anyway I’m far from religious (obviously), but I do remember from my Catholic high school/junior high school days that St. Joseph’s Day is sort of the equivalent of St. Patricks’ Day, except without the green beer & excessive drinking, but with the addition of pastries. Which I can totally get down with. I also remember my Italian friends sort of complaining that St. Joe’s Day was overlooked in favor of the *cough*more fun*cough* St. Patrick’s Day. Although let’s not forget that St. Patrick was Anglo-Roman, which is technically “Italian”… since you could say the Romans were the first Italians. But at any rate, for these purposes, let’s go with the general populations idea of polarizing the “holidays”, causing ethnic divides and of course, slander. I do love to start trouble, you know. *wink*
Anyway in turn, since fair is fair, I figured one saint deserves as much as another. Since I did a lot for good ol’ St. Patty, I decided to make something for ol’ St. Joe using my absolute favorite Italian import- Nutella. And what did I decide to make with Nutella? Homemade pop-tarts, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen!
I’m not sure if Pop-Tarts are a universal concept, so I’ll do a quick explanation courtesy of Wikipedia:
Pop-Tarts is a brand of rectangular, pre-baked toaster pastries made by the Kellogg Company. Pop-Tarts have a sugary filling sealed inside two layers of rectangular, thin pastry crust. Some varieties are frosted. Although sold pre-cooked, they are designed to be warmed inside a toaster. They are usually sold in pairs inside foil packages, and do not require refrigeration.
Popular flavors include chocolate, apple, frosted blueberry, frosted strawberry, frosted brown sugar cinnamon, cherry, and s’mores.
Pop-Tarts are Kellogg’s most popular brand to date in the United States, with millions of Pop-Tarts sold each year. They are distributed mainly in the United States, but also in Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Pop-Tarts were discontinued in Australia in 2005 and are now found only in import stores.
Before I get all crazy-preachy about making this recipe I will state: I do like Pop-Tarts®. I do. The s’mores kind are my favorite, and admittedly, I’ve only ever had those or the chocolate, but I can say that for what they are they’re good. And heated up, they’re better. I’m not 100% anti this stuff. But that said, who would (or could) turn down a homemade “toaster pastry” with a flaky, buttery, pastry crust if they had the choice? Probably not many. However I just needed to say that I do enjoy those store-bought, preservative-filled, chemical-laden little boxes of “pastry.” What can I say? I’m a child of the ’80’s. Crucify me… (sorry, bad joke).
HOMEMADE POP-TART CRUST
Yield: 9 pop-tarts
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks, or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 egg, lightly beaten (to brush on pastry)
- To make the crust, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, work in the butter until it is the size of peas and the mixture holds together when you squeeze it. Whisk together the egg and milk and add to the dough. Mix together with a fork until everything is evenly moistened. Knead briefly on a floured surface, if necessary, until the dough comes together.
- Divide the dough in half. (At this point you can wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.) If you refrigerate the dough, let it come to room temperature for about 15 minutes before rolling out. Roll out one piece of dough to about 1/8-inch thick, in a 9½ by 12½ rectangle. Using a sharp knife, pastry wheel or bench scraper, trim the rectangle to 9×12 inches. Cut the sheet of dough into nine 3×4 rectangles. Using a spatula, transfer the rectangles to a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Brush the lightly beaten egg on each of the rectangles. Spoon a tablespoon of filling into the center of each rectangle, leaving a ½-inch of space around the edges.
- Roll out and cut the second piece of dough in the exact same manner as you did the first. One at a time, place a second rectangle of dough on top of the nine assembled ones. Using your fingers, press around the seams of the dough to make sure they are sealed. Press the tines of a fork around the edges of the rectangles. Prick the tops of the rectangles in multiple spots to allow steam to escape.
- Refrigerate the pan with the pastries (you don’t need to cover them) for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool slightly before serving. Store pastries in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.
I made my dough the afternoon before, divided it and let it chill until the next afternoon (because I ended up being to tired to make them once evening came). I found that to be the best bet, as the dough was totally chilled and easy to work with and this way I didn’t get impatient and take it out too soon. As far as the filling, like I said, I used straight Nutella. But if you go to the Smitten Kitchen, you’ll find the ingredients for strawberry jam filling and cinnamon/brown sugar filling. And anything is possible! Marshmallow Fluff would be awesome mixed with Nutella /chocolate ganache. I made mine two different sizes, some small and some regular pop-tart size. I felt like for some people the full size ones would be too much.
I can’t tell you how much of a HUGE hit these were. This was my second time making them, the first time being last month, and they were so enjoyed that I decided to do a repeat performance. I still haven’t gone past the Nutella filling, mainly because I don’t like fruit fillings and the Nutella is just so easy… but when the weather gets warmer I think a few fruit ones will have to be made for family; I know my father & mother are big jam people. And by that I mean fruit jam, not musical jams. Although they like those too… who doesn’t like a good, loud jam?
Also, the King Arthur Flour website’s version of these little “toaster pastries” has a great idea for those leftover dough scraps:
Sprinkle the dough trimmings with cinnamon-sugar; these have nothing to do with your toaster pastries, but it’s a shame to discard them, and they make a wonderful snack. While the tarts are chilling, bake these trimmings for 13 to 15 minutes, till they’re golden brown.
At this point there’s nothing left to say except: DO IT. I’m battling a wicked nasty flu and they even made me feel (slightly) better. DO IT. NOW. And if you’re a Nutella freak like I am, I’ve got other recipes using it you might wanna take a peek at.