Creating Creamy Cannoli
Most everyone, even if they’re not of an Italian background, has visited a bakery selling that delightful dessert called “cannoli”. You know the ones— deep-fried pastry tubes the size of a knockwurst, filled with a sweet, cheesy filling similar to cheesecake on steroids.
Benedetto, of course, grew up in a family where his mother created homemade cannoli, wrapping the pastry shell around sawed-off pieces of broom handles from her mother-in-law. (If that doesn’t say Old Country, I don’t know what does-!) Nowadays there are metal tube forms for shaping the dough before dumping them in boiling oil.
Personally, I’ve never made the tubes. In some large grocery stores, you can find a dozen or so shells already baked or fried and packaged in a plastic box. Check the international food aisle near Hispanic, Chinese and kosher foods. I’ve used the premade shells in the past which works well because then you get to focus just on the filling, which is the most fun-!
Actually, over the holidays, some Italian friends gave us a couple of “cannoli kits”, complete with shells and cheese filling in conical plastic bags, perfect for piping the creamy concoction into the shells. They were pretty good and I enjoyed the fact that the shells were the mini-kind, good for two or three bites, and the filling included mini-chocolate chips. So, with mini-this and mini-that, there must not have been many calories at all in them.
So back to the filling. There are two schools of thought, the ricotta cheese crowd and the mascarpone conoscenti. Ricotta is more popular, probably because it’s more affordable as well as easier to find. If your ricotta seems a little liquidy, you can drain it in some cheesecloth. I have seen recipes calling for a bit of cornstarch to be added to the cheese, but that really seems unnecessary once you mix in some confectioners’ sugar, anyway.
Then it’s up to you after the ricotta cheese and powdered sugar. Toss in a teaspoon of lemon zest, or a bunch of candied citron if you’re someone who might like fruitcake. I’ve heard of everything from pistachios, chocolate, vanilla or Marsala wine mixed in with the ricotta.
The ends of the empty shells may also be dipped in melted chocolate— yum. Pipe the sweet cheese into the tube-shells and you can decorate either end with sprinkles, nuts, or other embellishments. Serve within a couple of hours to ensure that the shells don’t become soggy.
Enjoy them — this is the reason why cannoli is plural in Italian!