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Holy Cannoli!

When I was a little girl, one of my family’s weekly rituals was going to Mass at St. Clare’s [1] on Sunday mornings and then stopping at Enrico’s Bakery on Morris Park Avenue [2] afterwards for pastries.  We did this every Sunday without fail.  We’d get a big box filled with assorted treats like chocolate éclairs, napoleons and sflogliatelle.  The selection would change from week to week, depending on what looked good.  My brother and I each got to choose a few of our favorites.  I don’t remember what he chose, but I always picked the cannoli.  I adored those  crunchy, cookie-like tubes stuffed with an incredibly rich and luscious cream filling. I could barely survive the car ride home bursting with the anticipation of taking that first crispy, creamy bite!

After we moved to Florida, cannoli became nothing but a fond and wistful memory.  No one here had ever heard of a cannolo, much less knew how to make one.  So once in a while, my mother would make her own – and I would help.  They weren’t exactly the same as the ones from my beloved Enrico’s, but I loved them just the same.  Eventually, some Italians from New Jersey moved to town and opened up a little pastry shop right next door to our new church.  My parents were delighted and our Sunday morning tradition was reborn.  Unfortunately, Italians from New Jersey were better bakers than they were businesspeople.  After a few years they went out of business.  Sigh…  Since then, other pastry shops have come and gone…and come and gone.  But, I’ve always enjoyed them, and their cannoli, while they were here. 

The November 2009 Daring Bakers [3] Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives [4]. 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.

I was pretty excited to see cannoli as this month’s Daring Bakers challenge.  This recipe was new to me though, and is a bit different from the one I’ve used in the past. My recipe has egg yolk in the shells and the DB recipe does not.  I made a batch of mini-cannoli using it and some larger-sized ones using my regular recipe.  While the shells using my recipe look much prettier, both batches of shells tasted very much the same, which was pretty darn good.  I should mention, however, that this could be because I used a pasta maker for the larger ones and thus, was able to get the dough much thinner.  To be honest, just rolling out this dough with a rolling pin is pretty easy to do and doesn’t require you to haul out your pasta maker, set it up and then have to clean it afterwards.

Once you have all of your dough cut out and are ready to fry is where things get a little tricky, unless you have an extra set of hands to help you, which I didn’t.   I only had one set of one set of four cannoli forms, so I could only make four shells at a time.  Then, after frying each batch, I’d have to unmold the shells and set the burning hot forms aside to cool for several minutes before I could use them again.  Trust me, after you’ve made two or three dozen of those shells that way, the thrill is gone!

Here are what the cannoli shells looks right out of the fryer…

But, be careful!  Make sure you seal the edges of the dough around the forms really well before you dunk them into the insanely hot oil.  If you don’t, they will explode and you’ll end up with some that look like these…

Although making your own cannoli shells from scratch is time consuming and a bit tedious, making the cannoli cream filling is very simple.  You basically just have to whizz all of the ingredients up in a food processor or stand mixer.  I like to use a food processor because I think the ricotta comes out smoother that way.  You definitely don’t want grainy cannoli cream!

I filled half of my cannoli with the traditional ricotta filling spiked with cinnamon and a few drops of pure orange oil.  I also mixed in some mini chocolate chips.  These are the cannoli I grew up on and as far as I’m concerned, nothing can beat them.  I filled the rest with a pumpkin cream filling made with ricotta, mascarpone, cinnamon, a little pumpkin puree and just a kiss of spiced rum.  I also dusted the ends with crushed pistachios.  I thought they were surprisingly good, but not as good as the original.