Saturday 4 September 2021

Things cannoli get better

I have stolen my headline from punster Benedict Ambrose: in actual fact, life is sweet when the Canadian/American long weekend stretches before us, and we still have 10 or so homemade cannoli shells waiting to be filled with sweetened ricotta. 

Why did no one tell me that the most delicious thing on earth is a freshly made cannolo? Yesterday when I bit into the first one, I thought at first there was some mistake. I was actually confused by the deliciousness. It was like the first time I swam in the Mediterranean and thought my mouth was bleeding because I tasted salt

B.A. remarked that these had taken a lot of work, but this was mostly because I had never made them before and because I had fussed about in the kitchen the night before making candied orange peel. In fact, I got up yesterday at 6:45 AM, made the dough, put it in the fridge to rest for two hours, set the ricotta to drain beside it, and swanned off to the physiotherapist.  

Okay, so then it took me from 10:30 AM to 12 to get them done, so really this should have been a weekend project, but never mind. The dough rolled out beautifully, and the oil was sufficiently hot when I put the cannoli, wrapped in their metal tubes, into the pot. They took longer to cook than I thought, but I didn't panic. I fetched them out with tongs and set them to drain on the paper-covered cooling rack. When they were cooler, I eased them off the tubes, and when they were all free, I dipped one of their ends in melted dark chocolate. 

While they were cooling, I mixed 500 grams of ricotta with 200 grams of icing sugar and added a few drops of orange extract. The rule is not to fill cannoli until just before you serve them, so at first I filled only the above four (see photo). I added some smashed pistachios for decoration.

Making cannoli is less difficult than making pierogi, but making pierogi is good training for making cannoli. There's the same worry about how long to knead the dough, the rolling out, the cutting out, and  the stretching of the little circles into big-enough, thin-enough circles. You glue the flaps of the circles together with egg, which means they don't come unstuck while cooking the way (alas) pierogi too often do. 

Now here is my recipe, cobbled from Cucchaio Argento and BBC Good Foods. I stress that it is more authentic to use vinegar, but I haven't any in the house. Sorry about the metric.

McLean Cannoli


150g plain flour

big pinch baking soda

20g sugar

20g lard 

egg, separated

50 mL marsala wine

zest of one orange

sunflower/vegetable oil (for frying)


500g (2 Tesco tubs) ricotta

200g icing sugar

a few drops of orange extract


chocolate, chopped pistachios, chocolate chips, candied fruit, etc.

1. Mix dry ingredients and rub in lard. 

2. Add egg yolk, marsala and orange zest. 

3. Mix well and then knead for 7 minutes or so on a floured surface to create a smooth, elastic dough. It will probably be a bit sticky.

4. Wrap dough and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.  

5. Set the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl in the fridge to drain the whey. 

6. Roll out the dough as thin as you can (between pieces of baking paper, if you're me) and cut out 11 cm circles with a cookie cutter. If your cookie cutter is (like mine) too small, take the too-small circles and roll them out individually before wrapping them around the cannoli tubes. Secure the top flap with egg white. Keep cannoli under a damp cloth while working so they don't dry out. 

7. Heat sunflower oil in pot to 170 C or so. Drop in cannoli and take them out with tongs when they are golden-brown. Leave them to cool on a rack covered with kitchen paper. 

8. Mix the ricotta in a bowl with icing sugar and orange extract. Keep in fridge when not using. 

9. Gently slide the cannoli from the cannoli tubes. When they are cool, dip one end or both in melted chocolate.  

10. When they are completely cool, store on paper towel in an air-tight container to keep them crispy. 

11. Fill them with ricotta cream and decorate just before serving. Depending on the size of the tubes, you might not need a pastry/frosting bag and can just fill them with a small spoon. 

12. Never mind coffee: these go very nicely with a glass of marsala. 

The lovely table cloth, by the way, came from an Italian hardware store. I cannot remember if it came from Rome or Florence although I am inclined to think the latter. Italy is filled from top to bottom with tourist junk and luxury trinkets, so if you want something "real," something an Italian nonna (or bisnonna, let's face it) would use, go into the dark, unassuming little shop with the sign reading Ferramenta

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that my excuse for making cannoli was the Feast of St. Pius X according to the old calendar. Further evidence of radicalisation by Traditionis Custodes!

1 comment:

  1. Harrumph.They cannoli get better if they are fed cannoli. So there.