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.
Cannoli are known as Italian-American pastries, although the origin of cannoli dates back to Sicily, specifically Palermo, where it was prepared during Carnevale season, and according to lore, as a symbol of fertility.
The cannoli is a fried, tube-shaped pastry shell (usually containing wine) filled with a creamy amalgamation of sweetened ricotta cheese, chocolate, candied fruit or zest, and sometimes nuts. Although not traditional, mascarpone cheese is also widely used, and in fact, makes for an even creamier filling when substituted for part of the ricotta, or by itself. However, cannoli can also be filled with pastry creams, mousses, whipped cream, ice cream etc. You could also add your choice of herbs, zests or spices to the dough, if desired.
Marsala is the traditional wine used in cannoli dough, but any red or white wine will work fine, as it’s not only added for flavor or color, but to relax the gluten in the dough since it can be a stiff dough to work with. By the way, the name ‘Lidisano’ is a combination of Lidia, Lisa and Sopranos..LOL
Required for this challenge:
1. Must make cannoli dough and shells.
If you don’t have or do not want to purchase cannoli forms, you could simply cut out circles, squares, or any shapes you want and stack them with the filling of your choice to make stacked cannoli's aka Cannolipoleons.
If desired, you can channel MacGuyver [I went this route. :-) All my years in college finally paid off!] to fashion something heat proof to get traditional shaped cannoli. For example, 6-8 inch sawed off lengths of a wooden broom stick or cane, sanded down and oiled, is THE authentic cannoli form! Non-traditional shapes such as creating a form to make bowls, or even using cream horns if you happen to have them. Mini cannoli would be great too.
Typically, 6-8 inch long by 3/4 to 1 inch circumference cannoli forms is your basic cannoli form size
[As with new recipes, I made a half recipe to try it out.]
Makes 22-24 4-inch cannoli
Dough – 2 hours and 10-20 minutes, including resting time, and depending on whether you do it by hand or machine.
Filling – 5-10 minutes plus chilling time (about 2 hours or more)
Frying – 1-2 minutes per cannoli
Assemble – 20–30 minutes
2 cups (250 grams/16 ounces) all-purpose flour [1 C]
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar [1T]
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder [1/2 t]
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon [1/4 t]
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt [1/4 t]
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil [1 1/2T]
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar [1/2 t]
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand [1/4 C Marsala]
Egg white from 1 large egg - used for sealing the edges.
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish [I used pistachios]
Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling.
My dough ingredients ready to be combined.
Dry ingredients - flour, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa and salt.
Liquid ingredients - Marsala (a fortified sweet wine), olive oil and homemade white wine vinegar.
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.
The dry ingredients were pulsed to combine. Next, the olive oil is added.
With the food processor running, the Marsala was poured down the feed tube.
Just enough liquid to wet the flour, but not enough to ball in the food processor.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes.
There were some dry bits of flour, but the kneading worked the ingredients together.
With the ingredients incorporated, cover with plastic film and refrigerate.
Shape the dough into a ball.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.
While the dough is resting, the filling is made...
2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained [1 lb]
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted [95 g]
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon [1/4 t]
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean [1/2 t]
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice [1 1/2 T]
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange [I opted to use dried apricots, 1T]
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios [1 1/2 T]
1/2 t Grand Marnier (Optional) - used to add a little orange flavor since I didn't use candied peel or zest.
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.
The ricotta is wrapped in a linen (a cut up white bed sheet I used for the Strudel challenge.) Multiple uses from my $4 purchase. The sheet was boiled in water to "clean" and sterilize the linen.
My favorite chocolate is what I had left from Halloween. Instead of orange zest or candied orange peel, I opted to use dried apricots... My new favorite snack - unsalted, roasted, shelled pistachios. Never new they existed until a trip to Trader Joe's.
Practicing my cleaver skills. Finely mincing the dry stuff. :-)
2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth.
After being weighed down in the fridge for an hour and wringing the sheet, the 1 lb of ricotta had a final weight of 13.4 ounces. A loss of 2.6 ounces of moisture. That's over a 1/4 C of liquid!
Here the vanilla and Grand Marnier is added and the powdered sugar is blended in with a hand mixer. Like the dough, there's not enough moisture to really blend thoroughly so I pulled out the good ol' spatula and finished the mixing job.
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).
Mixing in the chopped dry ingredients.
Filled into a ziploc and refrigerated to firm up. The mixture was set before refrigeration, but cold is better for piping into the finished shells.
The dough and filling are being chilled in the refrigerator... Time to tackle the cannoli forms.
MacGuyver'ing a Cannoli Form
As I mentioned earlier, I put my years of college and experience as a structural engineer to work. Also, I didn't have time to look around for real cannoli forms.
When dealing with a thin skinned shell structure, you need rigid bar running along the length to keep the tube straight (the skewers) and you need rings to keep the tube round (the aluminum foil "rope") Heavy duty foil is used to form the shell.
Hand sketch of my plans for a cannoli form.
Not quite like the hand sketch... but close enough. lol!
Folding the foil over will protect the skewers from the oil.
Roll into a tube and we're ready to make the cannoli.
Repeat as needed.
Frying the Cannoli Shells...
1. 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.
I used a 3" biscuit cutter and a rolling pin to flatten and elongate into an oval.
2. Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, oiled..lol). Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) 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.
With the tube brushed with oil, the dough is wrapped around. Egg white is applied to the edge.
Press the ends together and make sure a good seal is achieved.
3. 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.
4. 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.
Oil at 375F... The moment of truth.... [Drum Roll]... slowly lower the tube into the oil.
Fry about 2 to 3 minutes... rotate as needed. You may need to roll the tube over and press down lightly with a skewer or tongs to cook the other side.
Fry until lightly brown. I found out after my first few that the aluminum foil tube retains a lot of heat so the cannoli will continue to darken.
Success! The forms work!
5. 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.
6. 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.
Another advantage of my improvised cannoli form...
the slit down the middle made what is known as a "collapsible mandrel". The diameter of the aluminum foil form can be decreased so it could slip out of the cannoli shell.
My cannoli tubes ready to be filled.
My first 4 shells at the top, middle of the picture turned out dark. I didn't realize the dough would continue to darken from the residual heat in the MacGuyver forms.
Afterwards, I removed the shells when they were light brown.
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. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.
Cannoli ready to be filled. Pipe from one end until half full. Rotate to fill from the other end.
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.
TIPS AND NOTES:
- Dough must be stiff and well kneaded
- Rolling the dough to paper thinness, using either a rolling pin or pasta machine, is very important. If the dough is not rolled thin enough, it will not blister, and good cannoli should have a blistered surface.
- Initially, this dough is VERY stubborn, but keep rolling, it eventually gives in. Before cutting the shapes, let the dough rest a bit, covered, as it tends to spring back into a smaller shapes once cut. Then again, you can also roll circles larger after they’re cut, and/or into ovals, which gives you more space for filling.
- Your basic set of round cutters usually doesn’t contain a 5-inch cutter. Try a plastic container top, bowl etc, or just roll each circle to 5 inches. There will always be something in your kitchen that’s round and 5-inches if you want large cannoli.
- Oil should be at least 3 inches deep and hot – 360°F-375°F, or you’ll end up with greasy shells. I prefer 350°F - 360°F because I felt the shells darkened too quickly at 375°F.
- If using the cannoli forms, when you drop the dough on the form into the oil, they tend to sink to the bottom, resulting in one side darkening more. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to gently lift and roll them while frying.
- DO NOT crowd the pan. Cannoli should be fried 2-4 at a time, depending on the width of your saucepan or deep fryer. Turn them once, and lift them out gently with a slotted spoon/wire skimmer and tongs. Just use a wire strainer or slotted spoon for flat cannoli shapes.
- When the cannoli turns light brown - uniform in color, watch it closely or remove it. If it’s already a deep brown when you remove it, you might end up with a really dark or slightly burnt shell.
- Depending on how much scrap you have left after cutting out all of your cannoli shapes, you can either fry them up and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar for a crispy treat, or let the scraps rest under plastic wrap and a towel, then re-roll and cut more cannoli shapes.
- Push forms out of cannoli very gently, being careful not to break the shells as they are very delicate. DO NOT let the cannoli cool on the form, or you may never get it off without it breaking. Try to take it off while still hot. Hold it with a cloth in the center, and push the form out with a butter knife or the back of a spoon.
- When adding the confectioner’s sugar to the filling..TASTE. You may like it sweeter than what the recipe calls for, or less sweet, so add in increments.
- Fill cannoli right before serving! If you fill them an hour or so prior, you’ll end up with soggy cannoli shells.
- If you want to prepare the shells ahead of time, store them in an airtight container, then re-crisp in a 350°F (176 °C) oven for a few minutes, before filling.
- Practice makes perfect. My first batch of shells came out less than spectacular, and that’s an understatement. As you go along, you’ll see what will make them more aesthetically pleasing, and adjust accordingly when rolling. My next several batches turned out great. Don’t give up!!
The Finished Cannoli
I have to admit I wasn't sure what to expect. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The shell was slightly sweet, slightly cinnamon-y and crunchy. The filling was soft, flavorful and sweetened perfectly for me. Not too sweet and not bland. Just the right amount where your taste buds aren't hammered with sugar, but by a complex flavor that leaves a pleasant aftertaste of cinnamon, pistachios, apricots, orange and liqueur.
Many thanks to Lisa Michelle of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives for a terrific recipe. Check out her blog for the full recipe with various tips and filling ideas.