- March 2023
- Makes 12
- Hands-on time 1 hour 30 min, plus cooling, resting and overnight draining
Cannoli are undoubtedly the most popular dessert of Sicilian baking. A bite into a homemade cannoli delivers a simple yet glorious triumph of flavours. The thin, crispy shell is made with soft wheat flour and lard and flavoured with marsala wine, orange zest and cinnamon, while the filling is a simple mix of ricotta, sugar and candied citrus peel. The overall amount of sugar is surprisingly small, leaving the delicate flavours centre stage.
Recipe taken from Giuseppe’s Italian Bakes by Giuseppe Dell’Anno (Quadrille, £20)
- 28g (13g saturated)
- 34g (15g sugars)
- 250g 00 flour
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 20g caster sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 30g lard or butter, chilled
- 1 large free-range egg
- 60g dry marsala wine
- Finely grated zest 1 orange
- ½ tbsp white wine vinegar
- Vegetable oil to deep-fry
For the filling
- 800g ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk
- 100g caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- Finely grated zest 1 orange
- 40g citron candied peel, finely chopped
- 40g orange candied peel, finely chopped
- 50g shelled pistachios, finely chopped
- Icing sugar to dust
- Piping bag with 1.5cm plain nozzle
- Pasta machine
- 12cm round pastry cutter
- 12 cannoli moulds
- The day before making the cannoli, put the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl to drain off any excess liquid.
- Put the flour in a large bowl and sift in the cocoa. Add the sugar, cinnamon and salt and mix until fully combined. Dice the lard and add it to the flour mixture, then work the mixture by pinching the pieces of lard with the tips of your fingers to break them into very small lumps, fully coated in flour. Keep working the mixture quickly until the lard is finely dispersed into the flour and no more clumps are visible.
- Beat the egg in a small bowl and add 30g to the flour mixture. Reserve the rest for sealing the shells later. Add the marsala, orange zest and vinegar and work it in the bowl with your hands. Once all the liquids have been absorbed, turn it onto the worktop and knead it until all the flour has been incorporated into a smooth and homogenous dough. The mixture is quite dry, and it requires vigorous kneading for a few minutes before all dry ingredients are incorporated. This will create a rather elastic dough which will need resting before being rolled thin. Wrap the dough and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or a few hours if possible.
- Meanwhile, make the filling. If you’re using artisanal sheep’s milk ricotta, it needs to be pushed through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon (you can skip this if using regular ricotta from the supermarket). Put the ricotta in a large bowl and whisk it with an electric whisk until creamy. Add the sugar, vanilla, orange zest and whisk again to combine, then fold in the candied peels. Transfer the cream to the piping bag, then seal and store in the fridge until needed.
- Once rested, remove the dough from the fridge and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Flatten a piece with your fingers, then pass it through the rollers of a pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold the pastry in half, turn it 90 degrees and pass it through the machine on the same setting. Repeat the folding and rolling at least 3 more times. You will notice that throughout this process the appearance and texture of the dough will change significantly; it will look finer and smoother at each passage. Repeat with the remaining pieces of pastry.
- Now start laminating the pastry to the required thickness. Reduce the gap in the pasta maker rollers by one step and pass the pastry through them once more. Work progressively by reducing the gap and rolling the pastry until it is no more than 1mm thick. This is usually the thinnest setting on the pasta maker.
- Use the pastry cutter to cut out 12 discs of dough – 3 from each strip. You can also cut the pastry into 12cm squares instead if you don’t have a round cutter. Wrap each disc around a cannoli mould, sealing the overlapping edges together with a dab of the leftover beaten egg. Pinch the dough firmly against the moulds with your thumbs to seal the shells closed. Do not wrap the dough around the moulds too tightly but leave enough room to swell while frying. If the dough is to tightly wrapped around the moulds, the shells are more likely to tear open in the fryer.
- Bring a deep pan of oil (no more than two thirds full) to 180°C. Line a cooling rack with 2 layers of kitchen paper and put it next to the pan.
- Working in batches, fry each shell for no more than 1 minute, turning it over frequently with tongs to make sure it cooks evenly. Drain on kitchen paper and leave until cool enough to handle.
- When ready to serve, put the pistachios in a small bowl. Pipe the cream into both ends of the cannoli, making sure they are completely filled. Dip each end in the pistachios to coat the cream fully, then arrange on a serving plate and lightly dust with icing sugar.
For the shells to retain their crispy, almost flaky texture, cannoli must be filled at the very last minute. In fact, if you buy them in Sicily, unless you are eating them on the spot, you will be served a set of empty shells and a bowl of filling, so you can fill them at home.
Traditionally, cannoli are made exclusively with sifted, artisanal sheep’s milk ricotta. This is getting harder and harder to get hold of, so if you are not one of the lucky ones that can source it easily, you can use conventional cow’s milk ricotta instead. The result may not be as good or in line with the purists’ view, but it is still utterly delicious and absolutely worth the calories!
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