Saturday, February 23, 2013

Holly Cannoli!

I can’t believe I made cannoli!  From scratch! And they came out exactly the way they were supposed to! I am so excited, but before I jump to recipe, I have a little cannoli story to tell….
I love a good cannoli, but it has to be really, really good.  Very few people have tasted a truly fine cannoli, you have to be lucky enough to live near or visit some of New York’s great Italian neighborhoods, where they still do the things old-fashioned way.  And once you taste that perfect cannoli, nothing less will ever measure up… and you will remember that true, authentic taste forever…I promise.
There is a young lady I know, who is very near and dear to my heart, for simplicity I will call her my niece.   She is an athlete and has to watch her diet, but she hangs out enough in my kitchen and that gives me the opportunity to sabotage her calorie intake just a bit ( I will not say anything further for fear of incriminating myself, her mother reads this blog…).  A few years ago, I took her along with my kids on “culture the kids up a bit” trip to New York City, and after a long day of explaining why a black square is considered priceless modern art and trying not to lose any of them on a subway, we ended up in Little Italy for dinner.  As we were enjoying our meal, I casually mentioned that for desert, we will go to a tiny special bakery I know for cannoli. My kids bubbled with excitement and my niece has asked “What is a cannoli?” at which point I almost fell off my chair.  A child living to eleven years and never tasting a cannoli!  Well, I just consider it a special form of child abuse….  Now I had to make good on my promise and we did get to taste what I think is the best cannoli in town.  Poor kid, she was so impressed and she kept remembering that day and that cannoli for years to come. 
Now, fast forward a few years, I thought she would make a perfect partner for my quest to make a great cannoli.  If am not allowed feed the kid all she wants, at least I can teach her how to cook it!  Besides, she is a teenager now, so if I can keep her in a kitchen for a few hours that is the time she can’t spend being wrapped around her boyfriend, or so I hope. 
Besides, you never know when the skill may become useful, maybe she’ll need to impress a future Italian mother-in-law, or worse… a grand-mother-in-law

Cannoli shells do take a bit of work, and by all means you can buy them unfilled from any neighborhood Italian bakery, but what a sense of accomplishment is making them yourself, especially if they turn out right.  You do have to invest in the steel tubes though.
The shells can be premade ahead of time and so can the filling (it will keep for a few hours in the fridge).  Fill your cannoli just as you are about to serve them or they will become soggy.
For the shells
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons of very cold butter cut into cubes
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp of salt
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
8- 9 tablespoons of Marsala wine
1 egg white lightly beaten for sealing the shells
Peanut oil for frying
For the filling
1 lb drained ricotta (See note)
½ cup of super fine sugar
Juice of one lemon
Zest of 1.5 oranges
1 tsp of vanilla extract
Small chocolate chips (optional)
Powdered sugar for dusting
Note:  This particular recipe calls for a really good quality ricotta. A good Italia grocery may have a homemade ricotta you can use, if not, go with what you can find in a supermarket. The most important thing is to drain your ricotta at least 4-5 hrs prior to making the filling (better overnight). 
Place the ricotta in cheesecloth in a colander over a bowl.  Put something heavy on top like a few cans of something and drain in the fridge.  Any excesses liquid will end up in a bowl and you will end up with a perfectly dry ricotta ready for use.
In the food processor combine the flour, butter, sugar and salt.  Pulse until the mixture resembles sand.  Pour Marsala wine a few tablespoons at the time; it may take a few less or more for the dough to come together forming a ball.  Knead the dough a little with your hand, shape it into a disk and refrigerate wrapped in plastic for at least one hour.
 Preheat your oil to 325-335F.  Divide the dough into 4 parts, roll out each part very thin (about 1/16 of an inch) and cut into circles with a pastry or a cookie cutter. 
Roll each circle into an oval and wrap it around a steel cannoli tube using the egg whites to seal the flaps.  Flutter the ends with your fingers so the form funnels. 
Fry for 2-3 minutes until golden brown and puffed up and you see blisters on the shell.  After frying place the tubes on paper towels and slide the cannoli off while it still hot.  You may need to twist it a bit for easier sliding. 
It really helps when one person is frying and the other one is rolling and preparing the tubes.  So if you got a niece or any other special kid, put them to work.
The shells should cool completely on paper towels, and should be kept uncovered until ready to fill.
For the filling, combine all the ingredients in a bowl of a stand in mixer, whip until fluffy and all sugar has dissolved.
Pipe the filling into each cannoli, garnish each end with a few chocolate chips and dust with powdered sugar. 
I tell you, sharing a “Holly shit, we made cannoli!” moment with my niece was one of the most gratifying moments my kitchen has ever seen.  Maybe they were that delicious, maybe they were so hard to make or maybe because we were in it together, learning, laughing, rolling….

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