It’s March and time for zeppoles

Bakeries get jump on St. Joseph’s Day, bake & freeze thousands of the delights


It’s all hands on deck during zeppole making season, according to Eleana Pennacchini, owner of Solitro’s Bakery in Cranston. With three generations of Solitro’s bakers on the premise each day, she said all her nieces, nephews, sisters and son-in-law come in around the St. Joseph’s Day celebration to help with the long pastry-making process. The family-owned business has served the Cranston community for 50 years.

“Overall, the season probably sells 15 to 20 thousand,” said Pennacchini, noting that the bakery starts selling zeppoles in mid-February and carries them until Mother’s Day.

Zeppoles were created by Don Pasquale Pintauro in the 1800s and have become part of the Feast of St. Joseph, which takes place each year on March 19. Saint Joseph is credited for preventing a famine during the Middle Ages in Sicily, Italy, and resulted in a large feast honoring him for answering people’s prayers.

Pennacchini’s father and three uncles taught her how to make zeppoles growing up. It’s a time-consuming process that can take up to an hour and a half between making the shell and cream and then filling the pastry.

With the biggest influx of customers coming in on the weekends, Pennacchini said the store’s fried zeppoles are more popular than their baked zeppoles. Solitro’s Bakery will sell three of the fried zeppoles for every one of the baked pastries, and both are filled with the traditional yellow cream.

Before Covid, Pennacchini said businesses would buy zeppoles for the office but didn’t see that happening during the pandemic. Still, there were nursing homes that placed orders so they could distribute the desserts to patients. Since Solitro’s just started selling for the season, Pennacchini said it’s too early to tell what the store will see in terms of customers this year.

Over on West Shore Road, Antonio’s Bakery & Charlie’s Deli is selling traditional zeppoles alongside more daring flavors. Strawberry, chocolate and Irish cream are among their specialty options. Employee Shannon McCarthy said the chocolate zeppoles taste like a chocolate cream pie and introduce individuals to the traditional zeppoles. Meanwhile, the bakery’s Irish cream zeppole is a top seller due to its sweet and creamy taste. The business started its zeppole adaptations by looking at flavors customers preferred (strawberry being one of them) and using them in their pastry.

During a seven-day span, Antonio’s Bakery & Charlie’s Deli will sell 1,200 zeppoles, with most customers buying four or six at a time. That number escalates come the week of St. Joseph’s Day with individuals coming in to purchase two or three dozen zeppoles at a time. Of all the days, St. Joseph’s Day is the busiest, with McCarthy noting its craziness. After that, the bakery will wind down and keep going until they’ve used the remainder of their supplies.

The locally owned business has been under the same ownership for 33 years, providing customers with a variety of desserts, pies, breads, calzones, pizza and more.

At another location twenty minutes away from Antonio’s & Charlie’s Deli on a Saturday morning, The Original Italian Bakery’s parking lot is full with customers squeezing inside. While the shop’s display case shows off the bakery’s six zeppole options, the basement’s freezer is filled with 500 zeppoles and 40 tubs of cream for future pastries.

The Original Italian bakery sells traditional zeppoles year round, owner Donald DePetrillo said the company serves their specialty flavors from the day after Super Bowl Sunday until Easter. These flavors include pistachio, ricotta, strawberry, chocolate and Bailey’s Irish cream with Bailey’s Irish Cream Liquor. During this time, they produce 1,000 zeppoles a day and last year sold 55,000 zeppoles.

DePetrillo has been doing this for 56 years and the zeppole recipe goes back 85 years.

He mentioned that the cost of flour, oil and shortening has almost doubled, causing the price of zeppoles, which now range between $4 and $5 to rise since last year - but not by much. DePetrillo doesn’t want to overprice the items and said it will just mean the store will make a smaller profit than in past years. Due to the price increase, he said some bakeries have chosen not to sell zeppoles this year. He said he’s not going to let his customers down.

DePetrillo noted that business is seeing an increase in the number of nursing homes or places ordering large quantities of zeppoles. The bakery recently received an order of 400 zeppoles and another 250 from a different location. Usually they serve between 10 and 12 nursing homes.

With a staff of 41 people, The Original Italian Bakery is working around the clock seven days a week to produce bread, pizza, calzones and - of course - zeppoles.


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