The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives.
The challenge called for sticking to the cannoli shell recipe, but the sky was the limit for a filling. It took me forever to find inspiration for a filling. I didn’t want to do the traditional filling. I did a chai filling last month, so I didn’t want to be boring. So while I was waiting for inspiration to strike, I thought I’d deal with the tangible part of the challenge. I’d start with making the ricotta cheese.
We were challenged, or should I say “dared” to make our own ricotta for the filling. I’ve made ricotta before, so I couldn’t back down on that one. I used Saveur’s recipe; I’ve made it before and have the rennet hanging out in the refrigerator. I bought Cedar Summit milk and cream because it’s local, fresh, and not homogenized. I made it the day before making the cannoli so that it would have plenty of time to drain.
On to the cannoli dough. Since I was going to roll the dough out with my pasta machine, I decided to mix it using the pasta setting on my bread machine. I gave it a final quick knead by hand at the end. I refrigerated the dough overnight and took it out the next morning to let it come to room temperature before rolling out.
I used the pasta machine to roll the dough out. It needs to be thin, practically transparent. I know people do it, but I can’t imagine rolling this out by hand. I started at the widest setting and worked it just like pasta dough: folding over and rerolling until it started to smooth out and then working my way down the dial. When the dial was down to about 3, I cut the strip of dough in half to make it easier to work.
I cut the first few into 5-inch circles, but after a few , decided I wanted smaller cannoli and started cutting them in about a 3 1/2-inch circle.
The dough is very forgiving and easy to work with. I only had four cannoli molds, so that slowed me down a bit. This would definitely go a lot faster with a helper.
I used a cast-iron dutch oven and a big Asian spider strainer to fry them in. The strainer kept them from dropping to the bottom and I could kind of bounce the strainer and keep them rolling in the oil. One bonus of the mold is that the weight keeps the cannoli submerged in the oil.
They cook really fast! And it worked best to take them out a couple of shades shy of dark golden brown. They seemed to continue cooking for a few seconds once removed from the oil. Happily, they slipped easily off the molds.
I have a big stack of cannoli. And the fun part at the end: Throwing all the scraps into the oil and then tossing them with powdered sugar. They disappeared as fast as potato chips.
Oh, and the filling? It might be a bit too frou-frou for Clemenza, but I was inspired by some princess cake I’d had recently. So I mixed a concoction of ricotta, almond paste and extract, raspberry jam, and whipping. Who could possibly resist a dessert that is crispy, creamy, crunchy all in one bite?
Lidisano’s Cannoli Shells
Adapted by Lisa Michele from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker
2 cups (250 grams/8.82 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
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 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
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
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.
3 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.
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.
Pasta Machine method
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Starting at the middle setting, run one of the pieces of dough through the rollers of a pasta machine. Lightly dust the dough with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Pass the dough through the machine repeatedly, until you reach the highest or second highest setting. The dough should be about 4 inches wide and thin enough to see your hand through
Continue rolling out the remaining dough. If you do not have enough cannoli tubes for all of the dough, lay the pieces of dough on sheets of plastic wrap and keep them covered until you are ready to use them.
Roll, cut out and fry the cannoli shells as according to the directions above.
For stacked cannoli
Heat 2-inches of oil in a saucepan or deep sauté pan, to 350-375°F (176 – 190 °C).
Cut out desired shapes with cutters or a sharp knife. Deep fry until golden brown and blistered on each side, about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove from oil with wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, then place on paper towels or bags until dry and grease free. If they balloon up in the hot oil, dock them lightly prior to frying. Place on cooling rack until ready to stack with filling.
Ah-ha’s Princess Filling
1 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla or vanilla bean paste
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. almond paste
1 tbsp. powdered sugar
2 tbsp. raspberry jam
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup drained ricotta
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.
Combine the whipping cream, vanilla and sugar and whip to stiff peaks. Set aside.
Heat the almond paste in the microwave for 10-15 seconds, until softened. Cream the almond paste, sugar, and raspberry jam. Add ricotta and almond extract and whip until thick and smooth. Push mixture through a fine sieve.
Stir 1/4 of the whipped cream into the ricotta mixture, to lighten it. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream. Cover and chill for a few hours.
Assemble the Cannoli
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.
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.