Brooklyn, New York is where I grew up. Back in those days my family used to frequent Circo’s Bakery in Bushwick and recently my Uncle Paul took me back to the old neighborhood for a a visit. It brought tears to my eyes to see that the bakery was still in business. I have had many a good cannoli in my day but the cannoli in Sicily are the best I have ever tasted, hands down. The flavor of the ricotta filling can vary from city to city though. Some cannoli are made with a slightly smoky flavored ricotta cheese, a result of the cheese making process in which the shepherd cooks the curds over a wood fire, and some have more of a tangy flavor. But the most sublime cannoli I ever ate was in Palermo and was made from sheep’s milk.
The taste still lingers in my memory to this day. The shell was dark, rich, and slightly sweet and the filling had an indescribable perfumed flavor. I worked on this recipe for several years and finally discovered that the real secret behind the ricotta filling is adding the right amounts of vanilla and cinnamon oil and then letting the flavors develop for several hours prior to eating.
Success in making cannoli that taste like those from a bakery is to use a really good quality ricotta cheese, and the cheese must also be drained of most of its remaining whey prior to making the filling. Although you can use oil to fry the cannoli, I find that it imparts more of a “fried” taste to the shells. My preference is to use a mixture of four parts vegetable shortening and one part lard.
In order to make the shells you will need a pasta machine, cannoli tube forms and a deep fryer. Cannoli forms can be made at home by cutting a 3/4-inch diameter wood dowel in 6-inch length pieces. You will also need a circle cutter or template approximately 4 1/2-inches in diameter to form the shells, you can also improvise by using the end of a large empty can. A pastry bag comes in very handy for filling the cannoli, although you can use a large Ziplock bag with one corner snipped off.
One important tip I learned from my Aunt Antoinette is to place the cannoli in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes before frying, which prevents them from splitting apart while frying.
Difficulty Rating: Difficult
Makes approximately 2 dozen.
FOR THE SHELLS:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon instant coffee, powdered coffee or powdered espresso coffee granules
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shortening or lard
1 Tablespoon brandy
1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6-7 Tablespoons Marsala wine
1 egg white, beaten
Vegetable oil, shortening, or lard for frying
FOR THE RICOTTA FILLING:
2 pounds whole milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 drops orange extract
2 drops lemon extract
2 drops almond extract
Cinnamon oil or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup heavy cream, whipped
3 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
1 tablespoon finely minced candied orange peel
2 teaspoons finely minced citron
For decorating the Cannoli ends use any of the following: candied orange peel, candied cherries, finely chopped pistachios, mini chocolate chips, chocolate shavings, or green-tinted coconut (traditional in N.Y. bakeries). Use powdered sugar for dusting the tops.
1. MAKE THE FILLING: The night before, wrap the ricotta in a clean kitchen towel and place in colander over a bowl to drain. Place a salad plate on top of the ricotta with a weight on top such as a heavy can and let drain 8 or more hours. The ricotta should be somewhat dry and crumbly.
Using an electric mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the ricotta and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat on medium high for 2 additional minutes until smooth. Using a toothpick, dip one end in the cinnamon oil and place 2 smears on the ricotta mixture (cinnamon oil is extremely potent, and using too much will ruin the filling). Beat in the vanilla, orange, lemon and almond extracts.
With a wide spatula, fold in the whipped cream and then gently fold in chocolate chips, citron, and candied orange peel. Transfer to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours to allow the flavors to develop. You can make the filling the day before or you can freeze it up to 4 weeks and defrosted.
2. MAKE THE DOUGH: In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and coffee. Rub the shortening into the flour mixture between the palms of your hands until it resembles coarse meal. Using a fork, stir in the brandy, vinegar, vanilla, and 5 tablespoons of Marsala. Using your hand to mix the dough, add the remaining Marsala 1 tablespoon at a time just until mixture comes together and a stiff dough is formed. Turn out onto a lightly floured board or countertop and knead 4 to 6 minutes until smooth and elastic. Form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 hours.
Preheat vegetable oil in a deep-fryer to 360°F, and preheat oven to 350°F. Remove dough from the refrigerator and allow it to sit for 30 minutes at room temperature. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Take 1 piece of dough and flatten with a rolling pin to about 1/8-inch thickness before placing in a pasta machine. Lightly flour and run through the machine at setting #1. Fold dough in half and run through again. Repeat folding, flouring, and running through about 8 times, until it is elastic, then run the dough once each through settings #2, #3, and finally #4. Alternatively, you can roll out each piece of dough with a rolling pin until very thin (about 1/16 inch or the thickness of a penny).
Cut the dough with the circle cutter or cut in 4½-inch squares. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out, repeat with remaining pieces of dough. Re-roll and cut any leftover scraps.
3. FORM THE CANNOLI SHELLS: Lightly grease the cannoli forms (after the first frying they will no longer need to be greased). Working with one piece at a time, place a circle on a board or countertop and using a rolling pin roll out two opposite ends of the circle to elongate into a slightly oval shape. Prick all over with a toothpick.
Lay the form on top across the middle of the dough or diagonally across the square. Place one end across to the middle of the cannoli form and using a pastry brush place a small amount of egg white on top along the edge. Bring the opposite end across covering the egg white. Be careful not to get any egg white on the cannoli form because it will make the dough stick to it. Press the edges lightly to seal. The dough should hang loosely around the form, giving the shells enough room to expand as they cook. Make 3 to 4 cannoli shells at a time, keeping the others covered with plastic wrap. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 2 minutes.
4. FRY THE CANNOLI SHELLS: Carefully lower the cannoli one at a time into the shortening and fry approximately 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown. Using tongs, transfer the shells onto a large bowl lined with paper towels to drain. Use a kitchen towel to gently hold the cannoli and with the other end carefully twist the end of the form to remove. Place shells upright in a large bowl lined with paper towels to drain. Store shells in an airtight container. You can store the shells in the refrigerator for several days or freeze up to 6 months.
5. FILL AND DECORATE SHELLS: Using a pastry bag or teaspoon, fill each end of the cannoli shells and decorate as desired and then lightly dust the tops with powdered sugar.