If there were an Italian dessert hall of fame, cannoli would surely be in it (along with tiramisu, gelato and ricotta cheesecake).
The word “cannoli” is as recognizable and understood as the word “pizza.” It has to do with the broad appeal of the product. Everyone, from kids to senior citizens, loves cannoli. Cannoli’s (the word translates as “pipes”) appeal, the way I see and eat it, has to do with the two components that make it up – cookies and cream. The shell is the cookie, the filling is the cream. And then, just to slap a little more “icing” on the “cake” there are add-ins like chocolate chips, pistachios, liqueur, golden raisins and candied fruit that broaden the appeal even further.
The cannoli shell, which is basically a fried pastry, can be made in house, but I wouldn’t advise it. The labor and cost involved is just not worth it. There are many good suppliers of pre-made cannoli shells (standard or enrobed in chocolate).
The filling, on the other hand, is another story. The cream filling is easy to make and has a reasonable shelf life (though it goes together so quickly it can easily be made every day as part of the overall prep). And by making your own filling it allows you to jazz the cannoli up with one or more of those add-ins.
In fact, I am waiting for some restaurant to set up a cannoli bar. Much like ice cream stores, a cannoli bar allows the customer to visually select a cannoli shell (standard or chocolate coated) and whatever add-ins (chocolate chips, raisins, nuts, candied fruit, diced fresh fruit, etc.) that they would like for their cannoli.
The secret to a great cannoli has as much to do with the shell and the cream filling as it does the procedure, which is as simple as filling the shell to order. The shell must remain crispy for a cannoli to be first-rate. In other words, if the filling is piped into the shell too far ahead, the shell gets soggy. Not good. Fill to order is the way to go with cannoli.
Yield: Enough filling for 12 standard size cannoli shells
1 pound ricotta cheese
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
Whip the ricotta cheese with a mixing spoon. Add the confectioners’s sugar and vanilla extract and whip again. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Place the filling in a pastry bag fitted with a very large star or open tip. Refrigerate until ready to use. To order, pipe the filling into the shell (fill from both ends).
To garnish, dip each end of the shell into coarsely chopped unsalted pistachios. Dust the shell with powdered sugar. In place of the pistachios, you may also dip each end of the shell into melted milk chocolate.
Add 2 tablespoons orange, lemon or candied peel to the recipe for extra flavor.