The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.
This challenge was a lot of fun because although we love Italian food, my family had never even tasted cannoli. I’ve done a bit of frying, so this wasn’t a particularly nerve-wracking challenge, but it did give me a handy excuse to buy a deep-fry thermometer and a spatter screen, which will hopefully make a big difference in the quality of my fry sessions and the amount of clean-up afterwards.
I made my cannoli dough several hours in advance. I had no marsala and briefly contemplated attempting mirin (since it is a sweet wine), but in the end I chose to use plain old white wine, and I used a few tablespoons over 1/2 C, enough to give me a kneadable, but not sticky, dough. The recipe didn’t specify Dutch-processed or natural cocoa powder, so I used the latter. While it hung out in the refrigerator, I made a batch of fresh ricotta to divide between my cannoli and the homemade cannelloni I decided to prepare for dinner, for the sheer synergy of it all. Thank heavens for the pasta roller attachment on my stand mixer!
After dinner, I started heating the oil and dividing my dough into 1″ spheres. The oil was a blend of about 3:1 extra virgin olive oil to canola, partly because cannoli are Italian and I was channeling Mario Batali, and partly because I ran out of canola. While I heated it up to about 375F in a heavy 4-quart saucepan, I rolled out my first four cannoli in the pasta roller, thinning them out to setting 6, which gave me about 5″ rounds to wrap around the forms. I had no trouble with the dough sticking to my roller or shrinking back; actually, it behaved very well and smelled delightfully of cinnamon.
I fried my cannoli two at a time. The oil temperature was a little hard to keep steady; mostly it kept wanting to creep above 375F, so some of the shells got a little darker than I had planned, but none tasted burnt. The recipe called for turning them as they fried, but mine just rolled back whatever way they wanted, so that didn’t really happen. I should also note that I never had a problem with my olive oil smoking, despite temperatures that occasionally got above 400F.
While they fried, I prepared the next two forms, which went in for a bath when the first two came out to drain. I was able to carefully remove the hot forms from the hot cannoli by keeping a thin cloth in each hand and gently twisting the shell free. For the first night’s batch, I then dunked the hot forms into water to cool them quickly for the next round; they caused some spattering in subsequent frying due to water droplets inside the hollow forms, so the next night I just gave them an extra minute to cool and skipped the dunking.
Using my pasta roller, I was able to make a dozen large (5-6″) cannoli shells with half the dough. For the most part they blistered very nicely, and I suspect that has to do with a combination of factors, namely the amount of moisture in the dough and the temperature of the dough relative to that of the oil. My shells blistered better when the oil was at least 375F and the dough was still cold. Several shells near the end of the frying session, with the dough at room temperature, almost didn’t blister at all.
For the first batch of cannoli shells, I made a filling of about 1 C freshly made and drained ricotta, 4 oz cream cheese at room temperature, 1 tsp vanilla paste, and about 1/3 C sugar. It was thick and lovely, and tasted like a cheesecake. I piped it with a star tip into my cooled shells, and had just barely enough to fill the lot. Because it was so thick, I was able to fill the extra shells and keep them in the fridge overnight with very little sog factor.
A few days later, I had time to fry up the other half of the cannoli dough, so I played around a bit more. Using a second batch of fresh ricotta, I made two new flavors of filling, chocolate and banana cream. Both used a base of about 1 C fresh drained ricotta and 4 oz cream cheese; the chocolate was flavored with about 1/4 C sugar and 1/2 C melted semi-sweet chocolate, while the banana cream was flavored with 1/3 C brown sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, and most of a very ripe banana. In addition, I dipped the ends of my cannoli shells into melted chocolate and toasted unsweetened coconut before filling. Both of these fillings were tasty, but the original simple vanilla filling was our family’s unanimous favorite. I should also note that the banana filling was of a moister consistency, and caused the leftover cannoli to soften considerably; I ended up deciding to save most of it to swirl through loaves of pumpkin bread.
We made short work of the lot, and even our 20-month old dug in. These were a lot of fun to make, and incredibly versatile. Every variety we tried tasted great, looked elegant and impressive, and were much easier to make than expected. Since I can have the shells and filling ready in advance, I will definitely be making cannoli for guests in the future, and it would be fun to try savory varieties too. Thanks so much to Lisa Michele for choosing this recipe, and check out all of the amazing cannoli at the Daring Bakers Blogroll!
Makes 22-24 4-inch cannoli
2 C (250 grams/16 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 T (28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 tsp (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 tsp (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 T (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 tsp (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 C (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 egg white
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 C/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 C (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Note – If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough (Thanks to Audax).
2 lbs (approx. 3.5 C/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 C (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 tsp (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 tsp (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 T (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 T (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 T (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios
Note – If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.
DIRECTIONS FOR SHELLS:
1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.
2 Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little. (A pasta roller also works nicely for this step. Divide the dough into 1″ balls, flatten one slightly, and roll it through from the widest setting to the smallest.)
3. Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once.) Roll a dough oval from the long side around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.
4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.
5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.
8. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.
9. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.
DIRECTIONS FOR FILLING:
1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.
2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm. (The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).
ASSEMBLE THE CANNOLI:
1. When ready to serve, fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side.
2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.
I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.