The Daring Bakers November Challenge: Cannoli

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

Cannoli are known as Italian-American pastries, although the origin of cannoli dates back to Sicily, specifically Palermo, where it was prepared during Carnevale season, and according to lore, as a symbol of fertility. The cannoli is a fried, tube-shaped pastry shell (usually containing wine) filled with a creamy amalgamation of sweetened ricotta cheese, chocolate, candied fruit or zest, and sometimes nuts. Although not traditional, mascarpone cheese is also widely used, and in fact, makes for an even creamier filling when substituted for part of the ricotta, or by itself. However, cannoli can also be filled with pastry creams, mousses, whipped cream, ice cream etc. You could also add your choice of herbs, zests or spices to the dough, if desired. Marsala is the traditional wine used in cannoli dough, but any red or white wine will work fine, as it's not only added for flavor or color, but to relax the gluten in the dough since it can be a stiff dough to work with. By the way, the name 'Lidisano' is a combination of Lidia, Lisa and Sopranos...

As I read that we were not supposed to bake but to fry this month I was a little bit devastated. I hate frying and avoid doing it whenever possible. Last week a wanted to make donuts and had to fry them (because just fried donuts taste like donuts), but as always my kitchen smelled terrible afterwards and I burned myself really badly with some of the hot oil. So no frying again! I was relieved when I read that baking was allowed too and decided to make Cannoli 'moulds' using muffin moulds for shaping the dough. That worked fine for me and at the end I was satisfied with the result.

Lidisano's Cannoli

22-24 4-inch cannoli

Important: The preparation time is quite long , so the best is making dough and filling the day before. For the dough you'll need 2 hours and 10-20 minutes, including resting time, and depending on whether you do it by hand or machine; and for the filling - 5 to 10 minutes plus chilling time (about 2 hours or more) plus minimum 2 hours for draining the ricotta.

Cannoli Shells (or in my case, moulds)
  • 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons(28 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1.15 g) ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt
  • 3 tablespoons (42 g) vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) white wine vinegar
  • Approximately 1/2 cup (125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine
Cannoli filling
  • 250 g ricotta cheese, drained
  • 250 g mascarpone
  • 1 2/3 cups (160 g) confectioner's sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
  • 1 teaspoon (4 g) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
  • 125 g 'unfinished' lemon curd (means without butter, for the recipe look here and skip the last step)
  • 3 tablespoons (23 g) toasted, finely chopped pistachios
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

Pasta Machine method: Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Starting at the middle setting, run one of the pieces of dough through the rollers of a pasta machine. Lightly dust the dough with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Pass the dough through the machine repeatedly, until you reach the highest or second highest setting. The dough should be about 4 inches wide and thin enough to see your hand through. Continue rolling out the remaining dough. If you do not have enough moulds for all of the dough, lay the pieces of dough on sheets of plastic wrap and keep them covered until you are ready to use them.

Part the dough in thirds (should be sqares). Put some muffins moulds upside-down and place the dough over them, making nice folds. Preheat the oven to 180°C and bake for about 10 minutes. Let cool.

For the filling, line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in mascarpone, confectioner's sugar, vanilla and the slightly warm lemon curd and blend until smooth. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

When ready to serve, fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Fill the moulds and decorate with chopped pistachios (or grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips). Dust with confectioner's sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

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