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.
When I was in pastry school, we baked and baked, but we never fried. In fact, we rarely used a stove for anything more than warming milk or cream, melting chocolate, or making choux paste. We didn’t have a fryer in the pastry kitchen, though there were fryers in the culinary kitchen (where the students learned to cook, not bake). I rarely set foot in the culinary kitchen, and if I did it was to retrieve stand mixers their students had borrowed from the pastry kitchen. It was like a different world over there. Where the pastry kitchen was always cold, clean, and quiet, the culinary kitchen was the polar opposite. It was full of nervous energy, pots and pans slinging about, constantly hot and perpetually in the middle of what felt like a dinner rush. I guess that’s what I thought of when I saw we’d be making cannoli for the Daring Baker challenge – I’d have to do something I’d never done in school, using tools and techniques I’d never been formally trained to use, to make a dessert that my Austrian pastry chef-instructor would never have made in his hotel career.
I dove into this challenge with glee. This was my first time making cannoli, and I found it to be a lot like making pasta dough…which I guess makes sense given its origins. I’d imagine an Italian grandmother looking around thinking, ‘hmm, what can I use to make a tasty little dessert? Ah yes, I have some wine, some pasta, some cheese…perfect. I’ll figure it out.’ It’s like a sweet fried manicotti.
I started the day with homemade ricotta, which I combined with mascarpone cheese to make it a little creamier. To that I added some orange flower water, chopped candied citron and miniature chocolate chips. For my first time, I wanted to be utterly traditional – get it right the way it’s supposed to be, then start mixing it up a bit. After the filling was ready, I set about working on the shells.
The dough was a little drier than I expected, but it looked like a lot of the photos I’d seen in other people’s posts about cannoli so I kept on going. I added a little more marsala and olive oil to make it easier to knead, but in the end I thought it would never come together because it was so dense and dry. I let it rest for a little while, divided it and started putting it through the pasta machine. It took a lot of rolling, but eventually it softened nicely, and we got lots of long sheets of dough. I cut the dough into circles with a large cookie cutter, and used a pastry wheel to get rectangular shapes as well. Because I’d picked those shapes there was a lot of scrap dough that we re-rolled over and over again. I was a little worried it would get tough, but hoped that frying the dough would take care of any latent toughness.
It was a good call. We were so efficient about our dough recycling that I made about 70 shells, plus a few pieces of junk dough that I’d used to test out the heat of the oil. I knew I didn’t have enough filling for that many cannoli, so the next day I tripled the recipe for the filling and prepared for the onslaught of friends who wanted to just stop by.
At last came the frying. I don’t have a Fry Daddy, so I used a stainless steel pot with a few inches of vegetable oil, and I fried one shell at a time. I didn’t think ahead that I would need more than 4 cannoli forms, so I got really good at frying, cooling, and swapping out hot tubes, then doing it all over again until all the dough was cooked. It took me over an hour, but when I was done I had a huge pile of shells and a grin I couldn’t shake. I’d done it, a totally new experience for me, making cannoli.
From end-to-end, it took a solid day to make this recipe, and barely two days to empty the house of the giant pile of shells. Sharing was the best part – Todd’s band would come for practice, I’d feed them each a cannoli and then packed ‘cannoli kits’ for everyone to take home, complete with shells and disposable piping bags of filling. They went to work with us, and even the dog got in on the action (although without the filling).
Would I do this again? Maybe. I didn’t do this alone, Todd helped me roll and cut the dough. Without him I’d be hesitant to take it on again, because doing this together was a joy. I get it. Cannoli isn’t like a Dobos Torte or a Financier. It doesn’t need the skilled hands of a pastry chef nor a cold, quiet kitchen to get it right. It’s a family dessert, full of that nervous energy of the culinary kitchen, and the more hands there to help, the sweeter it tastes in the end.
2 cups (250 grams/16 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) champagne vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala
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)
About 50 cannoli shells
- 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.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roughly roll them with a rolling pin so they are thin enough to put into a pasta machine.
- 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.
- Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Carefully lower a cannoli tube into the hot oil. Fry the shell until golden, about 2 minutes, turning it so that it browns evenly. Do not crowd the pan, but fry as many as you think you can manage without allowing them to burn.
- 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.
- Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough.
Note: I only had 4 cannoli tubes and managed to cool the tubes just enough after frying to roll a new piece of dough onto the form. You don’t have to cool them completely, but you do want to move quickly so your oil remains at the right temperature.
Because the dough had made so many shells, I had to re-make the filling more than once to have enough so I’m not including a specific recipe for the filling, but just proportions.
1 part ricotta cheese, drained
1 part mascarpone cheese
Granulated sugar, sweetened to taste
Optional additions: chopped chocolate, chopped candied fruit, chopped nuts, vanilla extract, pureed fruit, other flavorings
- Combine the ingredients to taste.
- Allow them to sit for a few hours so the flavors blend. The mixture should be soft enough to pipe through a pastry bag.