Yes, it’s this time of the month. And the current Daring Bakers’ challenge is Italian cannoli hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives, who chose the recipe from the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book. The dough recipe was mandatory but the filling options were left entirely up to the bakers.

My filling was a mixture of chestnut puree, fresh ricotta, mascarpone, grated bittersweet chocolate, toasted hazelnuts and a bit of dark rum. This is what I used for stuffing the traditional cannoli shells.

I also fried larger in diameter, cylinder-shaped shells, so I could play a little. Into the bottom of these shells I fitted the circle cut-outs of chocolate-chestnut cake. I topped them with almost the same chestnut filling mentioned earlier, but lightened with some whipped cream to make the consistency more mousse-like. The very last layer was bittersweet chocolate ganache.

Lisa, thank you very much for the delicious challenge! We all (well.., everyone who can eat nuts) loved it!

Happy Holidays!

Makes about 4 dozens 4-inch cannoli (with pasta machine method)

For the cannoli shells:

  • 2 cups (250 g/16 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp (28 g/1 oz) sugar
  • 1 tsp (5 g/0.06 oz) unsweetened baking cocoa powder, sifted
  • ½ tsp (1.15 g/0.04 oz) ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp (approx. 3 g/0.11 oz) salt
  • 3 tbsp (42 g/1.5 oz) vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 tsp (5 g/0.18 oz) white wine vinegar
  • Approximately ½ cup (approx. 59 g/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
  • 1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
  • Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
  • 1/2 cup (approx. 62 g/2 oz) toasted, chopped hazelnuts nuts for garnish (optional)
  • Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling (optional)

For the chestnut filling:

  • 8 oz unsweetened chestnut puree
  • ¼ cup fine granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 8 oz fresh ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tbsp dark rum
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, grated or finely chopped
  • 2 oz toasted hazelnuts, coarsely ground or finely chopped
  • ½ cup cold whipping cream (optional, if you want to lighten the cheese mixture)

Make the shells:

In a medium bowl combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

For hand-rolling:

Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch; – large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap (avoid getting the egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it). Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Heat the oil to 360°F on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.
Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

For pasta machine method (I highly recommend it):

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Starting at the middle setting, run one of the pieces of dough through the rollers of a pasta machine. Lightly dust the dough with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Pass the dough through the machine repeatedly, until you reach the highest or second highest setting. The dough should be about 4 inches wide and thin enough to see your hand through.

Continue rolling out the remaining dough. If you do not have enough cannoli tubes for all of the dough, lay the pieces of dough on sheets of plastic wrap and keep them covered until you are ready to use them.

Cut out and fry the cannoli shells as according to the directions above.

Depending on how much scrap you have left after cutting out all of your cannoli shapes, you can either fry them up and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar for a crispy treat, or let the scraps rest under plastic wrap and a towel, then re-roll and cut more cannoli shapes.

If you want to prepare the shells ahead of time, store them in an airtight container, then re-crisp in a 350°F (176 °C) oven for a few minutes, before filling.

Make the filling, fill the cannoli:

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the chestnut spread, sugar, and salt and process until smooth, stopping and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the ricotta and continue processing until the mixture is smooth again. Add the mascarpone, rum, and vanilla and pulse until well combine. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in the grated chocolate and hazelnuts.

If the ricotta was well-drained, the consistency of the filling should be just right for immediate piping.

If it’s not, place it, covered, in the fridge to firm up.

If you wish to lighten the filling, make it more mousse-like consistency, whip the cream until medium peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold in about a quarter of the cream into the cheese mixture, then fold in the remaining cream. Transfer the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch tip. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. Serve IMMEDIATELY!

If you want to prepare the shells ahead of time, store them in an airtight container, then re-crisp in a 350°F (176 °C) oven for a few minutes, before filling.