Sweet treats with a history of their own
It did occur to me that testing a recipe for cannolis over some of the hottest days of the year was bad planning.
It also occurred to me that suggesting you make a Sicilian pastry which requires the use of equipment you will probably need to order in advance is also asking a lot. But I was usefully reminded that Sicilians do make cannolis in what is, after all, a much hotter country than ours, although they are also fortunate enough to be able to buy them from a pasticceria.
I do not have a friendly local pasticceria selling delicious cannolis though, and making them myself is the only option if I am to indulge and they most certainly are indulgent with a crisp pastry shell delicately flavoured with marsala wine encircling a filling of sweetened ricotta, rippled through with fruit, gilded with nuts and often chocolate, all of this piped in at the last minute to stop the shell from softening.
It’s redcurrant season and as they’re my favourite soft fruit I’ve chosen to fill my cannolis with a sweetly tart puree made from them, rippled into a double cream and ricotta filling, with a depth charge from Frangelico. This Italian liqueur made from hazelnuts has notes of chocolate and I have heard it described as ‘alcoholic Nutella’, although I think it is far more nuanced than that. It’s readily available from stores and online but if you want to omit it, this is fine although in that case I’d probably want to add some ground hazelnuts to the grated chocolate garnish.
You will need cannoli forms (thin metal tubes) to make these and I bought mine for less than a fiver online but it has to be said, these are not the pastry to make on impulse and neither are they quick. They aren’t difficult per se, but they will require your time and attention which is no bad thing.
In a world filled with recipes and cookbooks titled ‘quick’, ‘easy’ and ‘fast’, I don’t think it is counter-intuitive to advocate for the art of cooking where the results are won over time. Rome may not have been built in a day but cannolis can be. However, at a pinch you could deep fry the flat discs of pastry then layer on the cream and chocolate if you don’t want to buy the forms.
According to historian Allison Scola, in Sicily cannolis are symbolic of Carnevale’s carnal and culinary debauchery prior to the serious business of lent and were sold to revellers from street carts, although other historians dispute this, claiming their origins are even more ancient.
What is clear is that cannolis are yet another culinary palimpsest, in possession of an edible history where the faint traces of more ancient stories about their origins lie just below their buttery crust.
Here’s a reciple that will make around 30 small cannolis.
300g plain flour
50g caster sugar
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 unwaxed lemon
1 pinch of ground ginger
4 tbs sweet marsala wine
4 tbs butter
1 large free-range egg
2 litres oil (choose a neutral one ie sunflower)
Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the sugar, ginger, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt. Zest the lemon.
Separate the egg into yolk and white. Making a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the lemon zest, yolk and marsala.
Melt the butter then pour in, mixing until combined.
Turn out the mixture on to a clean work surface and knead for two to three minutes until the dough is smooth. Cover with a large bowl then leave to rest for 20 mins.
Pour the sunflower oil into a large, deep pan and place over a medium heat. Using a digital thermometer, bring the oil up to 180C.
While the oil is heating, divide the dough into three pieces and roll out each piece into a rectangle 5mm thick.
Roll each piece in turn until they are as thin as possible (1/16-1/8in – 3.1 mm) or use a pasta machine if you have one.
Gently lay out each piece of rolled dough in turn on a lightly floured surface and cut out discs with a 10cm round cutter. Keep them covered with a teatowel until you’re ready to use them.
Wrap one disc around each cannoli form then very carefully brush the seal with a little egg white to secure it. It’s vital that you avoid getting egg white on to the form as it makes the cannoli stick to them.
When the oil has reached 180C, use tongs to add three or four forms and fry them for about one minute, until they are golden brown and crisp.
Don’t overcrowd the pan.
Remove and shake them over the pan then place on kitchen paper.
Once they are cool enough to handle, gently slide the cannolis off their forms.
Repeat this process until all the dough is fried, maintaining the oil at 180c.
150g icing sugar , plus extra to serve
400g ricotta cheese (pref sheeps milk if you can get it)
200g double cream
175g fresh redcurrants (raspberries will do if you can’t get them)
1/2 capful Frangelico
3 tsp caster sugar
3-4 squares dark chocolate
Place the redcurrants into a pan with the caster sugar and Frangelico and cook down into a semi-puree. Taste and adjust for sweetness. Strain off any excess liquid, set aside.
Whip the double cream until firm. Finely grate the chocolate and set aside.
Place the ricotta in a bowl, add the icing sugar and the double cream then fold together until well combined.
Stir in the redcurrant puree to make a gently rippled cream.
Using a piping bag fitted with a nozzle wide enough to pipe out the redcurrant cream, fill each cannoli.
Place in the fridge to chill for 40 minutes then dip each end of the cannoli into the grated chocolate.
Dust with icing sugar (and any leftover chocolate).