Thursday, February 25, 2021

Holy Cannoli!




   Today, you're getting a lesson in cannoli - perhaps Sicily's best-known dessert pastry.  Cannoli (singular being cannolo) means "little tubes" in Sicilian and they are believed to have originated in the Palermo and Messina regions of Italy.  Basically, a cannola is a fried tube-shaped shell filled with a sweet cheese cream filling.  The shell provides the crunchy texture while the cream filling supplies the sweet flavor.  The filling is traditionally ricotta-based, but sometimes mascarpone cheese or a combination of both is used.  The filling is generally sweetened with sugar, vanilla, and/or honey.  Other additives common to cannoli to add unique flavors and textures include assorted nuts, fruits (both fresh and candied), chocolate, and caramel.

As for the origins of cannoli, there are two stories or legends that try to explain its heritage.  The first claims that cannoli were invented by the concubines of a Saracen prince's harem in the Sicilian province of Caltanissetta.  Another story attributes their invention to the nuns of a convent, also in Caltanissetta, who produced the sweet to celebrate Carnevale, before Lent begins.  So, take your pick.  

The dessert spread throughout Sicily then migrated to the United States during the 1880s where adaptions were made to the original recipe due to the availability of ingredients.  At any rate, the dessert inspired one of the great Hollywood film quotes of all time:  "Nobody puts Cannoli in a corner!"  (Dirty Dancing 1987)  No! No! No!  Wait!  That's not right.  It was from the Godfather in 1972 - "Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli!"

Now, let's make some cannoli.

First, you need cannoli tubes.  

Or you can go find you some reeds, since the name cannolo is derived from "canna" which is a cane-like reed, such as a sugar cane stalk, and back in the day, the dough was rolled out then wrapped around the canes before being fried.

Lacking sugar stalks, I turned to Amazon for my cannoli tubes.

Next, make your cannoli dough.

Cannoli Dough
(Enough for 30 cannoli shells.)
2 cups flour
2 TB sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 TB butter, diced
1 egg
1/4 cup white wine
1 TB skim milk
1 tsp cream
(Rosie Note:  You can use milk.  I just never have plain milk on hand, but I always have skim and cream so I combine them.  As for the wine, I have no idea what that does, but cannoli recipes typically contain white wine.)

In food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Add butter, a piece or two at a time, pulsing.  Then add egg and liquids.  Pulse until dough forms a ball.  Remove from bowl and knead by hand on a lightly floured surface until it all comes together nicely.  Form into a ball, cover in plastic, and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Working with half the dough at a time, roll it out to 1/16" thick.  Then roll it some more to make it even thinner.  I don't think you can roll cannoli dough too thin.  Cut out into 4-inch-diameter rounds and wrap around cannoli tubes, sealing with egg white.

In a deep pot, heat oil (I use peanut oil) to 350°- 360°.  Drop 2-3 cannoli tubes into hot oil and fry
2 - 2 1/2 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let drain on racks.  Let cool.  Remove shells from tubes, wrap with dough, and repeat.  Let shells cool completely before filling.

I wrapped most of my shells and froze them since even I can't eat 30 cannoli.  
Important note:  Fill shells right before you're ready to serve, else those crisp and cracklin' shells will get soggy and we don't want that!

Before I get around to the fillings, lets go through the step-by-steps:

 I'm working with half the dough at a time to make things easier.
Lightly flour your work surface.


 Then start rolling out the dough.  As thin as you can.


 Cut dough out into rounds.

Wrap dough around tubes.

Brush with beaten egg white and press to seal.

My tubes came in a set of eight.


If you do any frying at all, invest in a thermometer.
Laser. Infra-red. Insta-read. 
It's worth it.

When your oil is hot(360°-ish), carefully place a tube in.

Then another one.

And another one.  I stopped at three.

Golden brown.  2 minutes or so.

And remove from the oil.

Drain and let cool.  
Then remove the shells, let the tubes cool completely, and continue the process.

My shells are ready for filling.

Now, the fillings are entirely up to you.
I can give you some basic ideas, and you can take it from there.
Typically, ricotta cheese is involved, but you could use sweetened whipped cream in a pinch.  Add some fruits and nuts, and you're good to go. 

I've got two fillings for you, both ricotta-based, but variations on the theme.  Depending on what fruits and nuts you have on hand, the possibilities are limitless.  For filling the cannoli, I scoop my stuffing into a plastic sandwich or zip-lock bag, cut the tip off, and squeeze. 

Filling #1:
(Enough to stuff 6 cannoli.)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. ricotta
2 TB sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla
Mix all together.
Add a couple of tablespoons of crushed pistachios to filling, saving some to press onto ends.  If you like, you can toast those pistachios to intensify the flavor.  Cool before using.
Pipe filling into cannoli.  
Blackberries are my fruit of choice with this filling.


For my next filling, I'm going with strawberries and pecans.

Filling #2:
(Enough for about 8 cannoli.)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. ricotta
2 oz. sour cream
1/4 cup sugar 
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped strawberries  Be sure the strawberries are finely chopped so they'll squirt through the baggie with the filling. 
 Mix all together and scoop into piping bag.
 Leave some larger strawberry slices for garnish.
And have some pecans for sprinkling around.


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