As a child, Anthony Furfaro remembers sneaking into his mother's pantry to indulge in his favourite snack. He would take one of his mum's zippoli (sometimes called zeppole), freshly rolled in cinnamon and sugar, make a hole in the centre, fill it with Nutella and hide in the pantry to tuck in.
It's a memory that inspired one of the most popular sweets at his new Panania café, aptly named Zippoli Café and Dessert Bar. Along with Nutella-topped zippoli, customers love the ricotta and maple syrup, and vanilla custard versions of the Italian doughnut.
It was during a trip back to his mother's village, Rocella in Reggio Calabria in Italy, when he was inspired to open his cafe. "I knew that while Italian families in Australia knew what zippoli were, other cultures didn’t. I got excited at the thought of how much they would love them, and how popular this traditional dish could become in Australia."
Zip to the bomb
While bomboloni (also known as bombolone) is well-known across the world, zippoli seems to have stayed somewhat hidden in the pantry. Which is surprising, given how similar the two doughnuts appear to be. There are important differences, though, best explained by Guy Grossi, well-known Italian food aficionado and owner of Grossi Florentino in Melbourne.
"Bomboloni is a doughnut made with a leavened dough and then fried," Grossi says. "They are most commonly sweet, filled with custard, lemon curd or jam - but traditionally custard."
"[Zippoli] can be made savoury [as well as sweet], often flavoured with anchovy."
Find the recipe for bombolini here.
Fritter vs cake
Aside from zippoli's ability to morph from sweet to savoury, depending on the occasion, there are differences in the dough and cooking techniques as well. In some ways, zippoli is more fritter, in both the way its cooked and its light texture. Bomboloni tends more towards a fried cake. Zippoli can often have potato added to the dough, with the extra starch adding lightness and elasticity.
"[Zeppole] is quite a soft dough, almost a batter," explains Grossi. "It's spooned into the oil, rather than rolled into shape like bombolone."
The flavour of zippoli and bomboloni are very similar, but the texture is markedly different. Bomboloni are chewier than zippoli, which are incredibly soft inside due to their wet dough.
Lastly, when additional flavours are added, bomboloni a filled with the ingredients, where zippoli tend to have the flavours added on top.
Crazy for both
Bomboloni and zippoli are equally delicious, but a preference for one or the other can quickly form.
"Personally I love bomboloni more than zippoli," says chef-restaurateur Alessandro Pavoni (Chiosco, Sotto Sopra, Ormeggio and Via Alta). "They’ve been on the menu at Chiosco since we opened five years ago.
"Once we took them off, but our customers went crazy. It lasted 48 hours before they were back on the menu!"
"People went wild for this 'new' treat."
There's been a similar response to zippoli out Panania-way. Zippoli Café and Dessert Bar started as a simple marquee at events and food festivals and was successful straightaway. "It went off! I would be selling non-stop all day" says Furfaro. "People went wild for this 'new' treat."
Devoted to zippoli
The demand for the doughnuts at the festivals gave Furfaro the confidence to back himself, and the popularity of his beloved zippoli. He turned his back on his corporate IT career and opened his café in September last year. Popular Italian favourites like lasagne, arancini, gnocchi, pesto and pizza are all on the menu ("cooked with love", says Furfaro), but it's the zippoli that lures people into the western Sydney restaurant from as far away as Wollongong on the south coast.
"Also known as zeppole, these savoury anchovy-stuffed Italian doughnuts are always in high demand, especially when we have the whole family over on Good Friday and Christmas Eve. This is the Calabrian version but if you’re not a fan of anchovies, make the sweet version instead by just leaving them out and rolling in sugar once fried." Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co.
"I knew they were good because I grew up with them," Furfaro says. "For me, they bring back the childhood nostalgia and definitely pull on the heartstrings.
"When customers come into the restaurant and they don’t know what zippoli are, they become curious. Once they taste them they absolutely love them and many say they wished they had discovered them sooner."
163 Tower Road, Panania
Tues - Thurs 5.30pm- 9.30pm | Fri - Sat 5pm - 10pm | Sun - 5.30pm - 9.30pm