It all started when a friend jokingly asked, “Come on…when are you going to make us some authentic cannoli?”
The conversation that followed revealed that years ago, this friend earned the affection of the woman who is now his wife by traversing New York City with her in search of the best cannolo. The challenge was on. Could we make cannoli that would take him back in time to that day in Manhattan?
The first step was to find good quality ricotta. Sheep’s milk ricotta is preferred, but a good quality cow’s milk ricotta will work, too. The next decision was whether to buy cannoli shells, or make our own. We reviewed recipes in our collection of Italian cookbooks and decided to give it a try. We would need cannoli forms, which we found. The final challenge was finding candied orange peel for the filling. Here in the midwest, it is usually available only during the holiday fruit-cake season. Undeterred, we decided that if we can make our own cannoli shells, we can certainly make our own candied orange peel!
We got to work on a Sunday morning, Stefano rolling out the dough and cutting it into squares, and Cara wrapping the dough around the cannoli forms and frying the shells to perfection. At first, the dough was too thick and the shells came out gummy. Stefano rolled the dough thinner and thinner until they were perfect. Taking only a few seconds to cook in the hot oil, they came out light and crisp. By midnight, we’d made about 50 shells.
When all was done, we had two dozen of the most delicious cannoli, ready to be filled. Stefano commented that he must have married a Sicilian.
For the cannoli shells
- 100 grams flour
- 100 grams butter
- 100 grams sugar
- 1/4 tsp semisweet cocoa powder
- 1 shot of Marsala
- 2 eggs, beaten
- peanut oil for frying
- powdered sugar for dusting
For the candied orange peel
- 2 oranges
For the filling
- 250 grams whole milk ricotta
- 150 grams sugar
- 1 Tbsp pure orange extract
- 2 Tbsp candied orange peel
- 75 grams grated dark chocolate
- 2 Tbsp ground pistachio
- Maraschino cherries
Prepare the Cannoli Shells
- Mix together the flour, butter, sugar, cocoa and Marsala until it forms a smooth dough. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Pour the peanut oil into a medium-sized saucepan, ensuring that the oil is about 10 cm or 4 inches deep, and heat the oil until sizzling, but do not let it reach a smoking point.
- On a well floured work surface, roll out pieces of dough into long, rectangular strip about 2 mm or 1/16 inch thick.
- Cut the dough into squares. The diagonal of each square should be equal to the length of the cannolo form.
- Wrap a square of dough diagonally around the cannolo form, so that two corners of dough meet at the top in the center of the form. Dip your finger in the beaten egg and seal the two corners together.
- Using a set of kitchen prongs, carefully set the cannolo shell into the hot oil, turn quickly, and once it achieves a medium brown color remove it to a paper-towel coated drying rack once it.
- Repeat for the remainder of the dough.
- Once the shells are cool, roll them in a shallow plate full of powdered sugar, and tap the excess off. Set aside to be filled.
Make Candied Orange Peel
- Remove the peel from two oranges and cut it into thin slices.
- Place the peel in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and let boil for two minutes. Leave the orange peel in the water and allow it all to cool.
- Toss out the water, and repeat this process two more times in order to draw the bitter flavors out of the peel.
- Remove the orange peel and weigh it. Add the same amount of water and the same amount of sugar to the saucepan. For example, if your orange peel weighs 100 grams, then add 100 grams of water and 100 grams of sugar to the pan, leaving the orange peel set aside.
- Cook the sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and it becomes a sugar syrup.
- Add the orange peel and allow it to cook at a low boil until the syrup cooks away. Be careful to not allow it to caramelize.
- Dust a piece wax paper with an abundant amount of sugar (superfine baking sugar works very nicely) and place the candied orange peel on top to cool.
Make the Filling and Prepare the Cannoli
- In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix the ricotta, sugar, dark chocolate, candied orange peel, and orange extract.
- Using a pastry bag and a tip with a wide opening, fill the cannoli. Pipe filling into each shell from the middle out one side, and then turn the shell and fill from the middle out the other side.
- Dip each end of the cannoli in shaved or ground dark chocolate and poke in a small piece of maraschino cherry.
We prepared four cannolo shells at a time and fried two shells at once, which worked well. It only took a few seconds for them to cook. Be careful to drain the hot oil out of the center of the cannolo form as you remove it from the oil. Use paper towels to quickly slide the fried shells off of the forms.
Your cannoli shells will absorb moisture from the ricotta, so they are best eaten as soon after filling as possible. Alternatively, do as the Sicilians do – fill your shells a few at a time as you plan to serve them.