Saturday, February 8, 2014

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannolis

It's a rainy morning (finally!) in Sonoma County and I, Mr. Winemaker himself, have a chance to discuss recent exploits from our little condo kitchen.  

After heading back to Jersey for Christmas to see my family (Exit 10E, for those interested) and enjoying all the flakey, ansiette-laiden, ricotta-and-cream-filled bounty that true bakeries have to offer, it occurred to me that it had been a while since I'd knocked out a round of cannoli.  "Little tubes" were once exclusively for festival-season, but have since found their way into year-round enjoyment, and one needs not to be u Sicilianu to master the art (with some practice, this Calabrese does quite well).  Always a staple at Sunday dinner, though rarely homemade because of the foresight and time involved, my hand had to be one of the first in the pastry box in order to stake my claim on my favorite dessert.  As a kid, "favorite dessert" is best articulated by tangible attributes (crunchiest, creamiest, flakiest, creamiest, etc) and one's preference for one item over another is based purely on satisfaction alone.  However, as one gains a sense of real taste and an appreciation for the process, satisfaction takes on a new definition.  I have over-thought a dessert?  Perhaps.  But it's so damn good.  And what I love the most about these little fried tubes filled with awesome is their capability for achieving perfection for only a brief moment in time--like fireworks.  They're at their best for only a few hours, before they lose their crunch and get just a tad soggy and wilt a little.  So that being said, cannoli are best experienced early in their lives while around a table with a dozen or so family that has just finished a meal fit for, oh, maybe three dozen.  If your last name ends in a vowel, then that last line wasn't a joke to you.  

In my childhood, I'd only seen my cannoli made maybe twice.  Not like I have a whole lot of family history to go on in terms of experience, but they were always there on the table.  Now what made them extra-special was that my aunt would get the variety box (some Napoleons, sfogliatelle…and there were some others in there, you know, a few of each) and getting to that cannoli was a race--a RACE, I tell you.  Victory was, well, insert your pun here.  When I decided attempt them myself for the first time, I had to source a recipe.  Of there however-many I found, understand that there are two elements: shell and cheese.  Feel free to play around with elements and techniques to find a combination that you like--that's what I did.  I will, however, offer some tips:  drain you ricotta well and refrigerate your dough.  I go 48 hours on both for proper texture (firm, but with an element of lightness).  Also, use a fry oil with a relatively high smoke point and monitor your temperature (a candy thermometer is ideal).  The first time I fried cannoli shells I ended up smoking out the entire floor of my apartment on the 4th of July.  I was rather unpopular.  Anyway, over the years I've settled on a recipe by Lidia Bastianich, which I've listed below.  The flavors are spot-on, but she prefers the Napolitano preparation instead of the Sicilian (frying flat sheets of cut pastry and assembling the dessert lasagna-style)--no matter.  If your wanter her recipe and methodology, it's here.  I've modified it to fit the traditional form.

For the dough:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, with more for dusting and rolling
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/2 cup dry red wine (I go for Nerello Mascalese, but I'm Mr. Winemaker--use whatever)

A food processor works best for mixing, but if you have a Kitchen Aid, that's OK too.  Add the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl and process just to mix.  Mix the olive oil, vinegar and the wine together and, with the machine running, pour all but 1 tablespoon in and process for 20 seconds or so until a dough gathers on the blade.  If it feels hard and dry, sprinkle in the remaining liquid and process briefly.  It should be moist and malleable—incorporate more wine if needed.  Turn the dough out of the bowl, scraping any bits from the sides and blade, and knead by hand into a soft, smooth ball.  Flatten to a disk, wrap very tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for up to 2 days (but at least 4 hours).

For the cream:

1 pound (2 cups) fresh ricotta 
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for decoration 
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier  
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate (or 3 tablespoons bittersweet chips--go for the tiny ones) 
2 tablespoons candied orange rind 
2 tablespoons toasted almonds 

Put the fresh ricotta in a fine-meshed sieve or cheesecloth and set inside a bowl to drain for at least 12 hours or a 2 days in advance.  Cover the ricotta tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. 

To make the cannoli cream, whip the ricotta with the whisk attachment of an electric mixer until smooth.  Whip in the 2/3 cup powdered sugar and the Grand Marnier.  Chop the chocolate (or chips) into coarse bits—big enough to bite into and to be visible.  Coarsely chop the candied peel and almonds to the same size.  Fold the chopped pieces into the cream; refrigerate until you assemble the cannoli. 

Put it all together:

Cut the pastry dough in half.   On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough into a thin rectangle.  Using a cookie cutter or your own wherewithal, cut discs from the dough about 4 inches in diameter and stretch to make an oval.  Set the cuts aside on a lightly floured tray to rest for 15 minutes before frying.  Meanwhile, roll out and divide the remaining half of dough the same way. To fry the pastry, pour about a quart of vegetable oil into a pot and set over medium heat--get it to about 350F. Wrap the stretched discs around metal cannoli forms (which can be obtained cheaply anywhere--or, if you're a purist, use a wooden broom handle) with enough overlap to hold the pastry together but not too much.  With the point of a small sharp knife, pierce each pastry about 10 times all over its surface, as though you were making pin pricks through the dough--these tiny holes will prevent the pastry from ballooning when fried.   Raise the heat to keep the oil temperature up but lower it as soon as the sizzling gets too fast.  Fry the cannoli for about 3 minutes, pushing them under the oil occasionally to heat the top surface.  As the tops begin to bubble, press with tongs to prevent big bubbles from ballooning—small bubbles are OK. When they're golden brown, remove and allow to drain and cool completely!

Assembling these little guys is pretty self-expalintory, and using a piping bag with a really wide tip (remember, you've got chocolate chips and nuts in there) really eases clean-up.  Just fill all the shells from both ends and dust with confectioners' sugar.

It requires a few days and some labor, but these cannoli are definitely worth it.  If I've moved you to try it yourself, have at it and let me know!  And if you like insights on wine and culinary stuff with the occasional pizza-related rant, I'm on the Twitter and Instagram-machines at @enolo_G .


Phyllis said...

Looks fabulous, but too much work for me!

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