Baked Cannoli

You guys know me by now. "How can I screw with this recipe?" (yes, I used self control in that sentence). It's a fine hobby to turn baking into a science project when possible, and believe me I take advantage of the opportunity.

I got cannoli in my head again after scrolling through some old food photos, recollecting the days of taking photos on my incredibly old Motorola phone - Android OS versions didn't even have delicious names yet! My first cannoli experience was slightly later in the game, though not quite Android v3.0 old. I now shoot on a moderately old Canon DSLR, but as fate would have it, I had left that camera at a friend's house and used my much newer Android phone for this recipe.

How can you improve an already flawless cannoli? Well, I'm not suggesting an attempt to somehow add better flavor. That's just impossible! Can you tell I like cannoli? Seriously, though, can I healthy it up a tad?


Fried food, within reason, is perfectly acceptable in my diet, or lack thereof. I tend to eat what I want for the most part, but again, within reason. I do not live off Oatmeal Cookies. But attempting a baked/healthier version of a fried recipe is just as useful. Sometimes, you just don't want to get out the oil.

I decided to make some of both, being that I had a whole new set of people to be my lab rats, or, erm, taste testers. I couldn't risk the baked ones turning into cardboard, leaving me with no quality cannoli to share. This post will therefore contain 2 different methods for the shells, baked and fried.

I followed the same recipe I had used before for the dough and filling, one my Italian former colleague had provided. It was passed to him by his grandmother, so I knew I was in good hands.

The dough is simple enough. I first combined the flour, sugar and salt. Just like I do with pie crust, I cubed the butter into small pieces and used my hands to work the butter into the flour until the mixture is a sandy consistency. I mixed in the egg yolk and wine with my hands until I had a smooth dough, setting the egg white aside for later. I formed the dough into a ball and let it rest in the fridge for half an hour.


And finally, it was rollin' time. I divided the dough into 2 sections and rolled it out thinly, 1/8" or thinner.


This recipe is just another piece of evidence in the argument that biscuit cutters are a worthy investment, even if you never plan to make a biscuit in your life. I use them for all kinds of goodies, including making mini cannoli shells.


As you can tell, the circles weren't perfectly even in thickness, but that's ok. I was intending to keep an eye on 'em during the frying process anyway.


The dough was then wrapped around some curled up pieces of foil to keep them from flattening out, and a bit of that leftover egg white was used as glue to seal the edges shut.


I used a biscuit cutter slightly larger than the diameter of one of the mini cupcake pan sections, then placed each into the pan. To make sure they didn't stay that pale color, I brushed each with some egg white, just as I would a pie crust.


I baked the shells in the oven for just over 15 minutes, until they were a golden brown color.


As those were baking, I got started on the fried shells. This time I used coconut oil rather than canola oil. I've gotten more into it for many reasons, including flavor and health benefits. Cannoli are sweet, so even if there is some slight coconut flavor, that is acceptable. I don't normally find that the flavor is strong or even detectable (except for when I cooked eggs in it, that one had a minor taste!), but even some flavor leeching is ok in these.

I heated the oil first to medium-high, then dropped a few shells in. It's important not to add too many as they can take longer to cook and therefore soak up more oil. My goal with frying is to get everything out as soon as it's done. So waiting until the oil is ready and pulling them out immediately is very important.


The filling is easy, but oh so good. Ricotta is certainly not the kind of cheese I would imagine eating cold. I mean, gross. That is supposed to be served up in baked lasagna or cheesecake. But it is necessary for that amazing cannoli flavor. I kept up the frying in batches until at last, the dough was cooked., then set them aside on a paper towel lined plate to drain the oil off as they cooled.

In this case, I whipped the heavy cream into whipped cream in my large mixer, then separately whisked the ricotta and powdered sugar. I gently combined the two bowls and stirred in the vanilla, cinnamon, and mini chocolate chips..


After the shells completed cooling, I pulled out the foil and filled 'em up. Fair warning: a wide tip to a pastry bag is needed if you choose to fill with one of those or you'll wind up cleaning out more chocolate chip blockages than a plumber's rooter.



I doubt I need to tell you that these flew off the shelves. They are CANNOLI for crap's sake. But I'll tell you anyway - they disappeared rapidly. It's all about that filling.

We already knew based on prior evidence that the fried ones were good. This was just a backup taste test. But the baked ones came out different than expected. They had the crispiness, and the flavor. They even had the golden brown color, as you can see in the above photo. What they lacked were the bubbles that a fried shell gets thanks to the wine. So it was like a small pie crust. I enjoyed them both ways, but I can't lie to you....fried wins. I'd definitely make the baked ones again. They are a handy little bite-sized dessert. Try it, you'll like it.

Fun fact I learned while writing this post...cannoli is the plural of cannolo. Thanks, google.

Baked Cannoli Recipe

Ingredients:

For the shells:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg, separated
1/2 cup white wine
2-3 cups coconut oil, for frying

For the filling:
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup mini milk chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:

For the shells: In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and salt.  Cube the butter into small pieces.  Use your hands to work the butter into the flour until the mixture is a sandy consistency.  Add the egg yolk and wine and mix into a smooth dough, setting the egg white aside. Lay out a piece of plastic wrap on a flat surface and place the dough in the center. Wrap the plastic loosely around it and flatten the dough.  Place in the fridge to rest for 10-15 minutes.  To roll and fry the shells, begin by heating the oil to 360 degrees F in a deep, heavy pan. To make baked shells, heat oven to 375 degrees F and choose a cupcake or min cupcake pan.

Sprinkle some flour on a flat surface. Divide the dough into quarters, then use a rolling pin to roll it out until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Use biscuit cutters or a small bowl with a 3-to-4-inch diameter to cut rounds out of the dough.Use a smaller size for the baked shells

For fried shells, fold a piece of tin foil, then roll into a circular mold about 1 inch in diameter. Wrap each circle around one of the molds. Brush some egg white on the edge before overlapping the dough to seal it shut. Use a pair of tongs or a straining spoon to place the cannoli shell in the canola oil.  Fry 4-5 at a time for for 2 or 3 minutes, until they are golden brown. Remove from oil and set aside to cool. Repeat with all of the circles.

For baked shells, add each to a cupcake mold and brush on egg white. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

For the filling, whisk the ricotta until smooth, then sift in the powdered sugar and cinnamon and mix to combine. In a stand mixing bowl, beat the heavy cream until thick and creamy, about 2 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the cream into the ricotta mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To fill the cannoli, use a pastry bag without a tip to pipe the ricotta into the cannoli shells. Fill the cannoli shells from both ends so the cream runs through the whole shell.

Makes about 24 cannoli.

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