Secrets to Making Cannoli

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Dolci
The holy cannoli trinity

Making cannoli at home can be an arduous task, but if you get it right you will be lauded as royalty by family and friends.

Cannoli have always been marginalized to the Italian pastry shop or your favorite Italian restaurant: and rightly so because getting the right consistency on the shell takes real know-how. The shell needs to be thin and shattering, slightly blistered, crispy but somewhat cake-like, and taste of light sweetness. And you need those tubes that look like hair rollers to make them hollow for the filling. Drop the whole thing into hot oil and hope for the best.

In actuality, making the dough for cannoli could not be simpler. After you make it once or twice the mystique starts to fade away, and you begin to realize these amazing pastries can easily be made in a Saturday afternoon – no trips to little Italy needed.

Dough for cannoli

In Sicily, the cannoli ends are flared like a horn. Why? So more filling can be piped in at the ends (Sicilians are intensely passionate about their dolci, and any time more sugar can be squeezed in, it is accommodated). There are two different filling types in Sicily: pastry cream and sweetened sheep’s milk ricotta. My preference is for ricotta, although the pastry cream is very good. My sister married into a Sicilian family and their stunningly delicious cannolis are pastry cream. But ricotta is what I grew up with and is more interesting to me. I like it’s rustic texture when it is combined with icing sugar and cinnamon. And you are using real ricotta for the filling, right?

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Dough Ingredients (makes about one dozen cannoli)

400g all purpose flour
75 grams shortening
50 grams sweet white wine
35 grams sugar
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Equipment needed:

Bowl of water
Pot with high sides, filled with 3 inches of cannola oil.
Cannoli tubes, metal or wood

  1. Combine the ingredients into a shaggy ball, and then wrap in plastic wrap. Put in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight.
  2. When ready to make the cannoli, take the dough out and let it come to room temp. Take a piece and roll it out thin. Using a 3-in round cutter, cut out circles in the rolled out dough.
  3. Take a circle and roll it even thinner, so it is almost paper thin. Wrap the dough circle around a cannoli tube making sure the dough is firmly around the tube without much slack, dab your finger in the bowl of water, and wet one side of the seam you are about to make. Close the seam with the other side of the dough circle, and press to seal. Flare the ends with your fingers. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
  4. When ready to fry, bring the oil up to 360 degrees. Drop in the cannoli tubes two at a time. “Baste” them with the oil, as they will float, to make sure they are cooking evenly. They should become golden brown and blistery. Remove from oil, place on a drip rack, and then remove tube immediately or they will stick after cooling.

Filling Ingredients

500g ricotta, drained
200g Icing sugar, plus more for dusting
1/2 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

Whisk the icing sugar and cinnamon into the ricotta until the mixture is somewhat smooth, but still rustic. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag, or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off, and fill the cooled cannoli shells from each side. You can add additional ingredients to the ends, including crushed pistachios, candied orange peel, or amarena cherries. Dust with icing sugar.

Have any secrets to making cannoli? Be sure to post them in the comments.

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

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Pizza
Deep Dish

Although not technically Italian as it would exist in Italy, this is what Italians in Chicago call pizza.

This is a filling pizza. One slice is enough for me, and then I don’t really crave it for a long time afterward. But the flavor is uniquely suited for a casual Saturday dinner with family with some nice roasted vegetables as an accompaniment. Surprisingly, this pizza is one of the easiest to make since the dough is really just a biscuit in disguise. All you need is some sliced mozzarella cheese from the deli, some high quality sweet Italian sausage, and some very good canned tomatoes and you have the makings of the “quiche of pizzas”.

Equipment for this type of pizza is just a 9 inch cake pan with straight sides, although you could use any pan you want. The dough here is not mixed. It is formed until just incorporated and then…that’s it! Let it rise on the counter in the pan you will be baking it in for 5 hours. Start to finish, actual hands-on time is probably 15 minutes, which includes forming the dough and dressing the pie.

Recipes

This blog has a great recipe that is easy to follow, and I have used it in the past with great success. A good beginners recipe.

Here is the recipe used for the pizza pictured here. It is in bakers percentages, and is for the seasoned pizza maker.

Here is the mother of all that is Chicago pizza, Realdeepdish.com.

Deep Dish

Ingredients

For the cheese, choose Boars Head or similar from the deli department and have it sliced a little thicker than normal. If you choose, get both mozzarella and provolone.

For the tomatoes, I always use San Marzano by Cento or Pastene and crush by hand. Muir Glen makes a crushed tomato with basil that is supposed to be very good. Most any crushed tomato will work, but avoid Hunts and Tuttorosso.

Deep Dish

Pizza in the Style of Rome

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Pizza
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Roman pizza, also known as pizza in teglia (pizza in a pan), is fermented longer than normal pizza dough and is topped with fresh, simple ingredients.

Baking in a pan allows the crust to become crispy while the inside crumb stays tender. Some versions of pizza in teglia are very, very thin and crispy – this version has more depth to the crust, and is adapted from Gabriele Bonci at Pizzarium in Rome.

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

A steel baking pan, 15×10″
A kitchen scale that measures in grams
A mixer with a dough hook

INGREDIENTS

727 g King Arthur bread flour
509 g water (room temp)
29 g olive oil, plus more for drizzling
18 g sea salt
5 g instant dry yeast (IDY)
28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
2 large balls of fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
1/2 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese
fresh basil

Make The Dough

1. In the mixer bowl, add water and then IDY. Stir to dissolve. Add in flour, then salt, then oil. Turn on the mixer to speed 1, and mix until ingredients are just combined – around 30 seconds. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 20 minutes. Turn the mixer back on to speed 2, and mix for 5 minutes. The dough should start to look smooth, but will still be sticky. Scrape the dough into a plastic bowl, and let rest at room temp for 1 hour. Cover, and place in the refrigerator for 18 hours.

2. Four hours before bake time, remove from fridge and let sit at room temp for two hours.

3. Scrape dough onto heavily floured surface, and split in two. Sprinkle top of each dough ball with flour. With heavily floured hands, gently shape each ball into a tighter shape, resembling a rectangle. Try to get the surface as smooth as possible by tucking the dough underneath itself. Drape both dough balls with plastic wrap, and let sit for two more hours. They should nearly double in size.

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Make The Pizza

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and place a rack in the middle position.

2. Drizzle a small amount of oil into the baking pan, and rub into the bottom and sides (don’t forget the corners).

3. Place the dough on a heavily floured wooden peel. Gently press on the dough ball with your floured fingers to spread it out, trying to keep the rectangular shape. Once it has spread out to almost the size of the pan, slide it from the peel into the pan. Stretch the sides and corners to reach the edge of the pan, trying to keep the dough as even as possible.

4. Ladle half the tomatoes onto the dough and spread to edges, leaving 1 inch exposed. Add basil leaves. Place mozzarella evenly throughout, and sprinkle 1/4 cup pecorino over top. Drizzle with oil, and bake in oven for about 10 minutes, until edges are nicely browed and the cheese has melted.

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Topping Variations

Bianco (white)

To the naked dough in pan, simply drizzle a good amount of olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary and sea salt. Bake.

Mortadella and Cherry Tomatoes

To the naked dough in pan, place fresh mozzarella, roasted cherry tomatoes, sea salt and basil. Drizzle with oil and bake. When pizza is finished and out of the oven, cover with dressed, fresh baby arugula (or caramelized onions), then gently drape very thin slices of high quality mortadella over the whole pie.

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Guanciale

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Curing
Cured pork cheek

Guanciale is the cheek of a pig, cured with salt and black pepper, and is considered the best tasting fat on the hog.

It is nearly non-existent in general grocery stores and not that common even in specialty markets. It is not eaten sliced thin as you would other salumi, but is instead used in cooked dishes and can be substituted for pancetta in any recipe. The fat is luscious and porky.

I just finished curing some guanciale from Caw Caw Creek Farm in my modified wine fridge. It came out spectacular. Look for a complete how-to on curing pork cheeks in the coming weeks.

Some of the most famous dishes using guanciale are bucatini all’amatriciana and spaghetti alla gricia. It can also be used in carbonara – the tantalizingly scary, raw egg spaghetti dish. In fact, if you have amazing quality guanciale and some farm fresh eggs, you can use the guanciale raw and make a carbonara that just sings with the essence of your ingredients. Here is my version (don’t tell my wife the guanciale is raw!).

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

serves 4

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces guanciale, diced into cubes
1 pound spaghetti
4 large, super farm fresh, organic eggs
1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
two cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
zest of one lemon
two sprigs fresh marjoram, chopped
freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. In a large bowl add the eggs, guanciale, marjoram, garlic and lemon zest. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix to combine.
  2. Cook the spaghetti in heavily salted boiling water (it should taste like sea water) until al dente. Remove from pot, drain (reserving cooking liquid), and add to bowl of egg mixture.
  3. Mix the hot spaghetti with tongs until the sauce is absorbed. Add in percorino cheese with a splash of the pasta water and stir until the sauce becomes smooth and creamy.
  4. Crack black pepper over pasta and serve.

Antique Oliera

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Pizza
Antique oliera

Copper oil cruet from Naples

These copper oil cruets (olieras) are used all over Italy, but particularly in the south around Naples. I found this one while perusing eBay.it. The women selling it said it had been her grandfather’s oliera while he operated a pizzeria around the turn of the century. It was it terrible shape – the copper was covered in green goo, there were dents, it was missing the connector from the spout to the body, and the inside tin was not safe for food. I bought it anyway. It was from Naples, it was 100 years old, and it was used in a pizzeria. What more could you want in an oliera?

I sent it to Mike Davis at Davis Silver Co. in Hanson, MA for a full restoration. He did an amazing job. The cruet is now used daily, and of course for the final swirls (in the sign of the cross) on a pizza Napoletana about to be baked in my wood fired oven.

Real Ricotta

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Cheese
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If you have had real ricotta, you know how far and away it is from the product in the plastic tubs at most grocery stores.

Although the grocery items are technically ricotta, they do not have the full, rich, creamy taste and texture that the hand-dipped version has. If you live in an area like NYC or New Jersey it is likely that you can easily find hand-dipped ricotta in your neighborhood Italian speciality store – mounded like an ice cream cone in special little baskets or metal cups. This ricotta was made from the leftover curds floating in a batch of whey, which was used to make fior di latte, or mozzarella. Once the curds have been cut and removed, the leftover whey is heated again (re-cooked, “ricotta”) and the curds that come to the surface are scooped out and placed into small vessels to let them drain. The curds meld into a beautiful, creamy, almost sweet cheese. This is real ricotta, and it is worth seeking out. In the Northeast, where I live, Calabro produces one for super markets. It comes in a tin cup wrapped in plastic – found in the specialty cheese section.

Real ricotta begs to be eaten as-is and not heated. I often dollop it over just-baked pizzas straight from the oven, drizzled with oil and dusted with cracked black pepper. Mix it with salt, oil and chopped basil, then spread on crostini. Mix it with sugar and pipe into cannoli. It is a special treat that has many applications and will highlight even the most simple of dishes.