My mother has not made cannoli in years. Too much work, she says. I finally understood why. Making 96 cannoli shells is quite an undertaking! Is any Italian capable of downsizing a recipe, I ask myself? One kilogram of flour is what we used as that is the recipe she had written down in her little black book of recipes. That’s the little black book that I am attempting to translate one recipe at a time. Part of the reason I need to do this is that I can not understand most of my mother’s script! There is also no particular order to those handwritten recipes scrawled in that little book and most of them do not have the title of the recipe. Only she knows where each one is. Nonetheless, it is a treasury of recipes which to me is representative of my childhood and my Sicilian roots.
Sicilian Cannoli are my favorite dessert. Don’t try to offer me any custard filled cannoli. Everyone close to me knows that I will only eat a ricotta filled cannoli. And not ricotta with candied fruit or orange peels or any other fancy filler. Perhaps just some crushed pistachios as shown in my photos. The chocolate ones are for my children.
It took us about three hours to make the 96 shells and I am sure most of you will not want to invest that much time in cannoli, unless you get together with a group of family members or friends and share the cannoli shells. Therefore, I decided to cut down the recipe to one quarter in order to make a manageable amount. They are well worth the effort and will never compare to those shells available in grocery stores!
In order to make cannoli shells, you will need bamboo dowels or currently available on the market are stainless steel cannoli molds. My mother brought back her dowels from Sicily years ago and they are nicely weathered, shiny and slick from years of use. Priceless! The challenge in frying the shells is that they constantly roll over when you try to flip them to brown the opposite side. We often found ourselves keeping one side down with a fork. Some shells may unwrap themselves from the dowels while frying. You can use those to make deconstructed cannoli by simply layering two or three with ricotta filling in between. The other challenge is in removing the dowel from the scorching hot fried shell in order to reuse it for the next batch of shells. Do not use your bare hands! We used a couple of paper towels to handle them. I therefore recommend that you use a smaller pot for frying and to fry three or four at a time at most. Also, if possible, purchase an extra set of cannoli molds.
My mother has always used a rolling pin to roll out her dough, but this time she decided to take out her pasta roller in order to ensure that her sheets of dough turned out of equal thickness. If you don’t happen to have one, a rolling pin will work just fine. We also don’t have a standard circular cutter but tested several bowls and mugs in her cupboard and found that this 4-inch diameter cup worked best to shape rounds which would wrap around the cannoli molds.
Ideally, I recommend you prepare the shells ahead of time and then fill them just before serving. That is unless you are partial to soggy cannoli shells. They will keep well for weeks if stored in an air tight container in a cool dry space. We prepared ours about two weeks before Christmas.
To all my readers, family and friends, Buon Natale!
Sicilian Cannoli with Ricotta Filling
Sicilian Cannoli with Ricotta filling are an iconic Sicilian dessert adored all over the world. Follow this easy, step by step recipe to make your own shells and ricotta filling and enjoy your own homemade cannoli at home!
- For the shells:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 egg white for sealing the edges
- vegetable oil for frying
- For the ricotta filling:
- 4 cups ricotta
- 3/4 cup confectioners sugar or more if you prefer a sweeter filling
- dash of cinnamon
- confectioners sugar for dusting
- semi-sweet chocolate chips roughly chopped (optional)
- chopped pistachios optional
- To make the cannoli shells: Place flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the egg, oil, sugar, red wine and milk. Stir the ingredients in the centre and gradually incorporate the flour in order to form a dough. Using your hands, knead until a dough is formed.
- Using a pasta roller or a rolling pin, cut off a small piece of dough and flatten with your hands. If using a pasta roller, begin with the widest setting and end by rolling your sheet of dough through the narrowest setting. The dough should be very thin, about 1/8 inch. Roll all the pieces of dough and cover them with a kitchen towel in order to prevent the sheets from drying out.
Using a 4 inch diameter circular shaped bowl or cup, cut out rounds of dough with a knife. Once again, cover to keep from drying out the dough. When all the dough has been used up, wrap each round of dough around a bamboo dowel or stainless steel cannoli molds and seal the edges with the beaten egg white.
- Fill a deep pot half way with vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, fry 3 or 4 cannoli shells at a time until golden. You may have to hold them down to ensure that all sides are evenly fried. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate or tray. Carefully separate the cannoli molds from the shell (be careful, they will be extremely hot!) and continue to fry the remaining rounds of dough.
- For the ricotta filling: In a bowl, whisk together the ricotta, confectioners sugar and cinnamon until smooth. Use a pastry bag or a plastic freezer bag with the tip cut off to pipe the ricotta filling inside the shells. If desired, dip the ends in chocolate chips or pistachios. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve.