Cannoli, tubes of crisp, golden-brown fried dough with a creamy ricotta, candied fruit, and chocolate filling were once made only during Carnival time in Sicily, particularly in the areas of Palermo and Messina, but have grown so popular that they are now made throughout the year, throughout Italy, and anywhere in the world where Sicilians have settled.
It is difficult, however, perhaps impossible, to find smoke point fresh sheep's-milk ricotta outside of Sicily, so there is something about a cannolo in Sicily that difficult to replicate. If you can't find a truly high-quality fresh ricotta (look for ones that have very few ingredients, without added stabilizers), then it's simple to make your own ricotta, and your results will be much better than if you use store-bought ricotta.
- For the shells:
- 2/3 cup (60 grams) unsalted butter, lard, or vegetable shortening
- 4 cups + 3 tablespoons (500 grams) flour
- pinch of fine salt
- 1/3 cup (60 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon ground espresso coffee
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
- 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons dry Marsala (you can also use dry white wine or brandy)
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons white-wine vinegar
- 2 egg whites, lightly beaten, for brushing the shells to seal them
- abundant lard or a neutral, high smoke-point vegetable oil, such as peanut oil, for frying
- For the filling:
- 2 1/4 pounds (35 ounces/1 kg) fresh ricotta
- 2 1/2 cups (300 grams) powdered sugar (the kind without starch, you can make your own powdered sugar, if necessary, by putting granulated sugar in a blender or food processor at high speed)
- a few drops vanilla extract (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups (8 ounces/200 grams) candied fruit, finely diced (the traditional ingredient is zuccata, candied squash or melon rind, but you can use candied orange or lemon peel, or any combination of the three, or omit this entirely and only use chocolate chips, if you prefer)
- 1 cup (6 ounces/150 grams) semisweet chocolate chips (plus more for decorating, if desired)
- For decoration:
- 20 candied cherries, halved
- 40 strips of candied orange peel
- 1 cup chopped roasted, unsalted pistachio nuts
To Make the Dough
- Cut the lard, butter, or shortening into the flour with the pinch of salt, then work the sugar, cocoa, coffee and cinnamon (if using) in.
- Gently mix in the eggs, Marsala, and vinegar and knead until you obtain a firm dough.
- Cover it with a cloth and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes, but no more than 2 hours.
- While the dough is resting, make the filling.
To Make the Filling
- Push the well-drained ricotta through a fine-mesh sieve -- use the back of a wooden spoon or the bottom of a ladle to push it through.
- Lightly beat the ricotta until it is light and airy, then gently fold in the sugar.
- Add the vanilla extract, if using, and gently fold in the minced candied fruit and chocolate chips.
To Form the Shells
- When the dough is rested, roll it out on a lightly-floured surface into a very thin sheet about 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick. (If you have a pasta machine, you can use it for this step, to roll the dough into several long, thin strips.)
- Start heating your oil or lard at this point.
- Cut the dough into either 3 1/2 inch squares, or 4-inch-diameter circles (either will work). Roll the squares or circles around lightly greased cannolo forms (if you made squares, start with one point in the middle of the tube and roll around until the opposite point overlaps it), brushing the edge with lightly beaten egg yolk to seal them.
- (NOTE: If you are using metal forms, you can fry the dough while it is still on the form: just gently flare the edges out a bit at each end so that the oil can penetrate between the dough and the form. If you are using a DIY form, you'll need to gently slide your rolled shells off the form and fry them alone.)
- When the frying oil or lard reaches about 390 degrees Fahrenheit (195 degrees Celsius), it's ready to start frying.
To Fry the Cannoli
- Fry the shells, 2-3 at a time, in abundant oil or melted lard (they should be floating) until they are a dark golden-brown, 4-5 minutes. (See this video in which demonstrates the desired color.) They should bubble up and blister a bit as they fry -- that's normal!
- Drain the fried shells on a paper-towel lined tray or platter, and then carefully, gently slide them off of the metal forms (if you have fried them on the forms).
To Fill and Decorate the Cannoli
When cool enough to handle, spoon your filling into a pastry bag or a food-storage bag with one corner cut off and fill each shell.
There are several different ways you can decorate your cannoli:
- Dip each end of each cannolo into chocolate chips.
- Dip each end into chopped pistachios.
- Place 1 half of a candied cherry on one end and 1 strip of candied orange peel on the other.
Gently dust the filled and decorated cannoli with powdered sugar, arrange them on a serving tray -- and they're ready!
Traditionally the shells are fried in lard, and a bit of lard (and vinegar) is used in the dough for the shells. In this video showing an elderly Sicilian woman making cannoli, she explains that frying them in oil makes them greasy. But it can be difficult and perhaps expensive to obtain that much lard these days, so feel free to use whatever suitable deep-frying fat you can easily obtain.
To make the cannoli shells, you will need at least 1 (preferably more) cannolo forms: a hollow tube about 1 inch in diameter and 5 1/2 inches long. Fante's sells them online, but you can also improvise and use whatever you happen to have in your home that is about the right size -- it does not need to be hollow, either. Some use pieces of a broom handle, sawed to the right lengths, and the lady in the video ltinked above uses pieces of bamboo. (The name, "cannolo," by the way, means "little tube." The singular, for just one, is "cannolo," while the plural is "cannoli," for two or more -- I imagine it's difficult to eat just one!)
You will also need a pastry bag (without a tip) to fill the cannoli, but if you don't have one, you can easily create a makeshift one by cutting one corner off of a plastic food-storage bag and tying the other end shut after filling it with the ricotta cream.
If you want to make these ahead of time, keep the filling separate and don't fill them until just before serving, to prevent the shells from getting soggy.