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.
In a previous post, I have briefly told the story of how I chanced to eat my first cannolo siciliano. Were it not for Daring Bakers, I don't think I would have tried to make this kind of cannoli at home. I know what a cannolo tastes like and knew from the beginning that I would not be able to come close to my memories, the best one being of eating countless miniature cannoli, where the ricotta filling was delicate, without candied fruit, the flavor of ricotta heavenly1. That was a long time ago, during my first visit to Sicily.
What I was not prepared for was disaster, in the form of my thermometer sliding into the 375 F-oil, which required the disposal of all of the oil as contaminated material. I am a notorious destroyer of thermometers. The one that ended up in the oil was a candy thermometer that I had broken open at the top. It still worked, except that when it slid into the pan, the hot oil penetrated inside and melted the measuring core. I decided not to give up: I went to the grocery store and got a new bottle of oil and a new thermometer.
In the meantime, the dough and I were not getting along. It was easy to roll and cut, but each piece sprang back to pre-rolled dimensions as soon as I let go of it. That was a problem, because I needed to shape the cannoli. I managed to get a couple of cannoli that reached the frying stage in decent shape. Frying (friggere) was not plain sailing either: before one minute was over, my first cannolo was burnt (leftmost in the photo). By reaction, the second cannolo ended up on the other side of the spectrum, called undercooked, and it puffed up beyond belief, because the dough was too thick, due to problem #1, about the dough, explained about (center in the photo).
I decided I would give it one more try. I shaped and fried an acceptable (give my lowered expectations) cannolo, filled it with my ricotta cream (more on this shortly), took a photo and served it to my husband. "The filling is good." What a sweet quality assurance professional he is! Of course, the filling was good: the homemade ricotta was freshly made (with milk as main ingredient, according to a recipe in the book The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley, as mentioned in this post) and the candied orange peel was also of my own making, plus I used very good dark chocolate.
It was clear that the dough and I were not meant for each other. It was a sad farewell, because I didn't know what had not worked between us. Still disappointed by the unhappy ending of my adventure, I thought: "maybe this is a good time to try and make the other cannoli." Also called cannoncini (literally, small cannons), they are composed of a puff pastry shell filled with pastry or whipped cream, or variations thereof. I had my own puff pastry in the freezer, so it was easy to act upon my idea. I thawed a piece of the batch and implemented plan B. I cut a 12-inch long and 1-inch wide strip and rolled it around an oiled cannolo form, baked it at 375 F until golden, let cool, slid off the form and filled it with ricotta. I called it fusion dessert: cannolo siciliano filling in a cannolo shell. My husband smiled. He was not ecstatic, but happier than during the previous tasting.
I then made a couple of shells more in the cannolo siciliano shape, cutting a rectangle and uniting two opposing corners to close the loop. Finally, I made a few circles and prepared a sort of millefoglie. I split the baked circles in half to obtain six thinner circles and made two millefoglie out of three layers each, with some ricotta cream spread in between each layer. I know, it was a digression, but at least I can say that overall the exploration was not a total disaster.
You will find the recipe for the dough here. The recipe for puff pastry used in a previous edition of Daring Bakers is here. The recipe I used to make ricotta is described at the end of this post: it uses cultured buttermilk to acidify the milk and I used low-fat milk in it. This is not traditional ricotta, but I did not have time to make cheese before making cannoli to have the whey to make traditional ricotta. I drained the ricotta for two hours, then placed it in a bowl lined with some cloth to obtain a drier than usual consistency. The candied orange peel I made is not ready for prime time, so I defer discussion to a future post.
For the ricotta filling, I loosely followed the recipe here. I had 9.5 oz. of ricotta and sweetened it with 1 oz. of vanilla powdered sugar (zucchero vanigliato) and a tablespoon of agave nectar. I then added a scant tablespoon of candied orange peel, diced, and a tablespoon of finely chopped dark chocolate. I also added a dash of orange blossom water. I mixed all the ingredients well with a fork to achieve a creamy texture.
A special thank you goes to our host for her choice and her efforts. Regardless of the bumps on the road, it was a valuable learning experience. I hope you will take the time to go around and look at the gorgeous creations of my talented fellow Daring Bakers.
1 As Baol reminded me in his comment below, the ricotta traditionally used to fill cannoli is ricotta di pecora, i.e., ricotta made with, as main ingredient, the whey derived from the production of sheep milk's cheese.