Saturday, 3 January 2015

Lemon and Pistachio Cannoli

Lemon Pistachio Cannoli

Ask me what the next big food trend should be, and I'll tell you it's cannoli. We've done cupcakes, whoopie pies, macarons and the most derisive of them all: cake pops. Most of these are fads. Inconsequential, pretty, sugary things that are usually more effort than they're worth. I derive no pleasure from these compared to the satisfaction of that first bite of a crisp, cinnamon sugar-dusted cannoli shell, filled with sweet, thick ricotta cream.

Cannoli are traditional Sicilian pastries of real substance, and the key here is to stay authentic. Wine should be used in the pastry; no baking soda or powder. Ricotta as the filling, and don't even think of using whipped cream to aerate it.

After having first tried cannoli a year ago at a new Italian restaurant in Peckham, I have been dying to try my hand at making them. Following a recent conversation with a friend in which, with great fervour and animation, I expounded the beauties of a good cannoli, a couple of weeks later an early Christmas present turned up on by bed in the form of eight cannoli tubes. I haven't been as excited by a gift in a while! Embarrassing, I know.

Homemade Cannoli
The name 'cannoli' comes from the Italian meaning 'little tubes'. You won't have failed to notice that 'cannelloni' pasta shells and cannoli share the same etymological origin. The trademark tube shape is formed using metal tubes. After wrapping the pastry around the tube, it is then deep fried for a couple of minutes until golden. The pastry shells can last in a sealed container or tin for up to 2 months, but it's important to only fill them just before serving, or the cream will soften the shell.

Although metal tubes are important for shaping the pastry, word has it that dried cannelloni pasta tubes work, or if you are particularly audacious, try cutting steel curtain rods or wooden broom sticks (the original cannoli form). I'm a bit dubious about the Instructables method of moulding tubes from aluminium foil, but you could give it a go. Or simply cut flat circles or other shapes, fry and sandwich them with filling.

Cannoli Recipe

Common flavours are 'Siciliani' (pistachio and candied fruits), lemon, pistachio and chocolate. Other cannoli fillings to try are rose water and pistachio, orange flower water, almond and tangerine, chocolate amaretto, ginger and candied orange. Even more exciting are the endless savoury possibilities! I've only seen this done once by a blogger at the 'Chef In You' website. Maybe there are good reasons savoury cannoli isn't more popular, but how wrong can you really go with some pastry and savoury filling?

Cannoli Recipe
Ooph, hello pile of washing in the background

Unique to cannoli pastry is the addition of wine. This isn't for flavour but to help relax the gluten in the flour, making it easy to roll the dough very thin. This pastry recipe takes a couple of minutes to make, and contrary to other recipes, there's no need for kneading. My pastry has the blistered surface, which is the mark of good cannoli. Future pursuits will include trying out baked cannoli. Baking doesn't achieve the same appearance, but you won't feel so guilty throwing away all the leftover vegetable oil from deep-frying.

Homemade Cannoli Recipe

Lemon and Pistachio Cannoli

Makes 20 large pastries


2 cups flour
3 Tbsp (45ml) shortening
2 Tbsp (30ml) granulated sugar
1/3 cup cooking wine (red or white)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
Milk or beaten egg
Vegetable Oil, for deep-frying

Cut the shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon. Stir in white wine, a few drops at a time; add egg and mix until the pastry holds together.
3. Form into a ball, cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
4. Cut the pastry into four parts. Roll each part on a lightly floured surface. Cut into oval shapes 4-5 inches (10-12 cms) long - you can do this by cutting around a cardboard template with a knife. Put aside scrap bits of pastry to roll out into more shells. Wrap each oval around the metal tube and seal the edges with a little milk or beaten egg.
5. Deep fry in 2 inches of vegetable oil at 180°c (350°F) for around 2 minutes, until golden. Drain on paper towel, and allow to cool briefly before removing the metal tube. Repeat with remaining pastry.

Cannoli shells should be completely cool before filling. Shells are best filled right before serving.

2 cups ricotta
Zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped pistachios

Beat all the ingredients together until mixed.


2 tbsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon ground
1/3 cup finely chopped pistachios

Dip the sides of the filled cannoli in chopped pistachios. Mix together the icing sugar and cinnamon, dust liberally over the cannoli. Refrigerate until it is time to fill the shells.


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