I have often wondered about people who can resist the sweet temptation of a cannoli. I can’t imagine not being drawn to the decadently delicious confection with its crisp fried dough shell brimming with ricotta cheese. For those who live on another planet, a cannoli is an Italian pastry in the form of a tubular shells filled with sweet ricotta cheese and often containing nuts, citron or chocolate bits.
I vividly recall making cannolis with my grandmother, Lillian, in her kitchen. I always knew that I needed to soak everything in, so I could continue the treasured family tradition. I love remembering when we would make cannolis together. I can still hear her saying, “Don’t mix it too much!” and “The dough has to be paper thin, keep rolling!”
After she passed away, my father and I teamed up and continued the tradition. We make cannolis Christmas Eve, when our family gathers. Creating cannolis is a long and delicate process that involves patience and a clean broomstick handle. First, you make the dough. Next, you roll the dough out paper thin and carefully wrap it around a dowel (my grandmother had the perfect broomstick). Finally, you drop the dough in hot oil and let the shells dry out on brown paper bags. Once the shells are dry, you place them in airtight containers until you are ready to fill them with ricotta cheese or cooked cream. We usually make them two weeks before Christmas, so they have time to let the grease from the frying get absorbed into the brown bag; that ensures crispy shells.
The memory of running upstairs and filling the shells with my grandmother is strong and ever sweet. To me, the holidays give me permission to be nostalgic, family-aware, touchy and even a bit sappy. Sometimes sappy enough for my daughter, Alexa, to look at me and roll her eyes.
Here is our family recipe for cannolis. We hope you try to make them with your loved ones this holiday season. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons melted shortening
2 tablespoons sugar
1 wine glass of brewed coffee (⅓ cup or more if needed)
Mix flour, sugar, melted shortening and coffee in a mixing bowl. Using your hand, mix until dough forms a ball. Add more coffee as needed until dough forms a ball. Turn dough onto lightly-floured work surface. Roll ½ of the dough until it is very thin (⅛ of an inch thin). Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Repeat and roll remainder of dough. The recipe should make between 18-20 shells.
Wrap the thinly-rolled dough loosely around the cannoli stick. Dampen the edge of the dough with coffee, and press to seal the edges shut in the middle. Press hard enough so the dough will not open when it is fried.
To fry cannoli, we use a small fry daddy. You can also fill a small cooking pot with oil about ⅓ of the way. Heat the oil to 350 degrees. Deep fry until the cannoli shells turn golden and crisp. Do not over-crowd the pot or fryer. Using tongs, remove shells from oil and place on brown bags or paper towel to drain. When the shell is cool enough to handle, remove the cannoli stick.
12 oz. ricotta cheese
¾ cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix all ingredients together. Pipe filling into prepared shells. Dust with generous amount of confectioners sugar before serving.
Ann Steriti is owner/operator of Periwinkles Food Shoppe, 540 Loring Ave., Salem.