A month is already passed by since the last Daring Baking (remember the sad macarons? ) and it is again time for a new challenge.This time Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives spared us from using our ovens announcing the challenge with “Sorry all, we’re not baking this month…” at which point the eyebrows of many of us shot up (while others probably exhaled a sigh of relief). No worries, we will not have a month without challenge! The point was that this time we had to prepare a fried dessert: cannoli.
I was again very excited while reading the announcement.
A very crispy, at the limit of toughness, cylindrical shell filled with a sweet ricotta cream spiced with cinnamon and sometimes complemented with some bittersweet chocolate bits. The sides, cut on a bias, are decorated with toasted nuts (either almonds or pistachios) or, in some cities, with candied fruits (usually a cherry and a sliver of orange peel).
The crispy shell is dark brown and corrugated, like the skin of old country men; the candid filling results from the whey left over from the cheese making using their sheep’s milk. Ricotta is a poor cheese product, raised to the level of their royal courts by the Arabs with the addition of the white-gold called sugar, a touch of cinnamon and roasted almonds.
All together, they represent a perfect portrait of my beloved Sicily!
Even though I have been eating these delights quite often, I never tried to make them myself; too simple? too daring? too easy to fetch from the closest bar, most probably. For this reason I greatly welcomed this month challenge; after all the Daring Bakers challenges are intended to face us with recipes and preparations that we won’t dare, for one reason or another, to try by ourselves. So here you have the recipe we had to follow for the shells.
• 2 cups (250 grams/16 ounces) all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
• 1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
• 1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
• 3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
• 1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
• Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
• 1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
• Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres) 1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces)
• toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish Confectioners' sugar
DIRECTIONS FOR SHELLS:
1. 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.
2. Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.
3. Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, oiled..lol). Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.
4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.
5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.
6. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.
7. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.
Pretty straightforward right? Naturally simplicity can often dissimulate many tricky points.
Putting together the dough was easy; the only peculiar feature I found was its porosity. I tried to knead it using the pasta machine, but naturally it didn’t have enough gluten to hold on and it was breaking all the time. At the break, the surface looked quite engraved with holes and canals, strange for a dough that doesn’t have any leavening agent and needs kneading; but thinking better at it, it has sour ingredients like vinegar and wine.
I knead the dough by hand until it felt soft and silky and then let it rest in the fridge for almost two days. When I was ready to roll it, I used the pasta machine and this time the gluten worked its magic and the pasta rolled quite easily. I wanted thin, crispy shells so I rolled it till the #4 settings on the machine, the dough hold it well.
In my weirdness, I didn’t want to make only the classical cylindrical shells so I tried making rings using my cutters as shape; no problem with it so far. Everything started when I plunked them into the hot oil.
The dough inflated like a flying balloon! Blisters as big as half an inch were acting like floating balloon bringing the dough to rise to the surface detaching from the ring shape. Sigh… Next time just use a thicker one (both dough and ring).
To make flat squares resulted as difficult (even because my plastic spatula softened while holding them down flat). With them, the all surface was a big uniform blister, fried pillow anyone? Might be interesting to fill them like choux.
The classic cylindrical shapes work best at holding onto the metal form. I particularly liked the effect you get when rolling the rectangle of dough oriented parallel to the cylinder axis and just pinching the two sides at the corners. The result is a nice shell with opened center, pretty cute to fill and decorate (and surely more photogenic, I guess every DB has noticed how cannoli when photographed, may end up looking like come out of the sexy shop at the corner rather than the pastry shop).
Put all the clues together; if you want tin shells that so not resemble balloons, try using a less acidic wine and perhaps less vinegar.
As filling, I could not find ricotta at my grocery store and bought mascarpone; since I do not want to cover them up in almonds, but like their taste, I decided to make an almond pastry cream. Naturally the custard came too thin and spread out on piping into the cannoli but it worked perfectly for the pillow-cases. The open spiral shells could be great with some fresh fruits (that I miss today).
And Voila! Here you are my plate of mixed cannoli-fantasia.