The next Gourmet Club theme is Italian and I have the assignment for the dessert course. While the dinner is not until June, I know I need some practice (and who doesn’t like eating the practice when dessert is involved????). The possibilities for delicious Italian desserts is endless. I am thinking I will do a two part dessert, because one part must be cannoli.
I have no Italian blood in me. No Italian aunties. No kindly neighborhood ladies that would bring over Italian food. Nothing. I love pasta (as 95% of the world does), but I have no heritage in making any of the cuisine. Because of that I am not ashamed to admit that I had never eaten a cannoli until I was 36 years old.
I was in New York City and my Brooklyn born boss suggested a place for dinner in Little Italy. After a great dinner, the group of us walked around Little Italy and he guided us to Ferrara’s Bakery. He told of stories when he was a little boy and for a special treat they would come down into the city and get a cannoli from Ferrara’s. So when we stopped in, I had no other choice than to order one. It was wonderful. A crispy and sweet shell with a creamy and luscious filling. I’ve had a craving for them ever since.
My odyssey of making cannoli took me several attempts to find out what to do right. The end product of my first attempt is below.
The crust, while flaky, was way too thick. The filling still had too much texture from the ricotta and while OK, was not great.
I made the dough and cut it with a cookie cutter. I needed flour to keep it from sticking to the counter.
To make cannoli, you need the tubes. You can make them yourself, but keep in mind they will be repeatedly dropped in hot oil and your future food surrounds them. Don’t use anything that will warp, melt or seep into the food. I thought it best to buy a set of the real things. If you only have four, be prepared for a long process to make any quantity of shells.
The oil needs to be kept around 325. When you pull the tubes out of the oil, use a spider to prevent from cracking the shells. Once out and drying on some paper towels, the next challenge is sliding the tube out of the shell. First, the tube is 325 degrees. Ouch. Second, remember to coat the tube with cooking spray before you wrap it, or else it will stick. Sticky and hot tubes = finger burns.
I was able to get some decent shells, but again, way too thick.
For the filling, I purchased some ricotta from an Italian deli. To ensure the ricotta is dry, it is best to drain it in a strainer overnight.
My second attempt at making the shells, I employed a new weapon, a non-stick kitchen mat. A review of this product is forthcoming.
A second weapon brought to bear in the cannoli wars. An oven glove (review forthcoming) allows you to handle the hot tubes while maintaining the dexterity you need to slide the tubes away from the shells without breaking them.
The second round shells were thinner but not yet thin enough. I still have to work on this for the gourmet club dinner.
Here is the finished product. I would say it was a success! My co-workers and neighbors who ate my practice attempts will hopefully attest to it.
- 4 cups of flour
- 3/4 cup Crisco
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 20 tbsp of water or wine (there are 16 tbsp to a cup)
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 egg whisked with 1T of water for an egg wash
The key to a good flaky shell is to NOT work the dough too much…”cut” the Crisco into the dry ingredients until the mixture is no bigger than pea sized, then add the egg and slowly stir in the water until it forms a ball.
You can make this in advance and refrigerate the dough. It’s easier to roll and work with when it’s cold. Roll it thin (using flour or on a non-stick mat so it doesn’t stick), like less than an eight of an inch. Use a round cookie cutter (or a margarita glass) to cut the dough. Spray the tube with non-stick spray (I used the kind meant for baking). Wrap the cut circle around the tube and brush the top of the circle with egg wash so when completely rolled, the egg wash helps to seal the edge. If needed, press down right on the seal to better firm up the seal Be sure the edges are sealed good because they tend to pop open when frying.
Fill a pan with a vegetable oil and heat the oil to 325 degrees. Try to keep it at that temperature. For my stove it was just below medium heat. Gently place several of the cannoli shells in the oil and fry until deep golden brown. When you pull the tubes from the oil and slide the shell off the tube place the shell on paper towel to soak up extra oil. Repeat.
The shells can be made several days in advance and keep well. Do not fill early as shells will become soggy. Fill as close to eating as reasonably possible.
- 4 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup finely chopped maraschino cherry
- 1/3 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips
For filling, drain ricotta cheese over cheesecloth if ricotta is watery.
- Combine ricotta cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract until combined.
- Squeeze Maraschino cherries with paper towels to remove all liquid. (If you don’t squeeze them good, you will have a pink water filling!).
- Stir in cherries and chocolate chips into the ricotta mixture, being careful not to over mix.
- Chill filling for about 30 minutes before piping into cooled cannoli shells. Use a piping bag, as this will be easiest to fill the shells.
- Dab each end into a flat dish filled with mini chocolate chips.
- You may garnish the cannoli by sprinkling powdered sugar on top.
- Whipped cream, a cherry, and shaved chocolate can also be used to garnish the top.
- Keep refrigerated until time of serving.