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The Italian connection
Think of Italy and the thoughts that first come to mind are the wonderful waterways of Venice, black olives, olive oil, pizza, pasta, a never ending list of mouth-watering pies, and the fabulous all time favorite dessert 'cannoli'. It is said that you will never find two cannoli recipes that are exactly the same.

This delicious dessert is not new to America. Bakeries have been making this popular Italian pastry for well over a few decades now. It is so popular today that it would be very difficult to find an American who has not savored one.

Cannoli consists of a shell and the filling. The shape of the shell comes from the cannoli tube . This 6-8 inch steel tube is available at most of the supermarkets. If you are not able to get one, ask your local grocer to source one for you.

Essential ingredients for preparing cannoli are flour, sugar, eggs, and ricotta cheese (a fresh cheese with a texture smoother than cottage cheese). Do not substitute ricotta with any other cheese. The shells and the filling can be made in advance. The filling should always be kept refrigerated. Never prepare the entire cannoli, since the shell will become all wet and soggy. The shell must always be filled just before serving, so as to maintain its crispness.

A simple cannoli recipe
Whatever you experiment with while making a cannoli, always remember one rule: a firm, crisp shell and a thick, soft filling; never the other way round.

Ingredients:

For the shell:
  • 3 cups, flour
  • ½ cup, confectioners sugar (do not use granulated sugar)
  • ½ teaspoon, salt
  • 3 tablespoons, shortening
  • 2 tablespoons, olive oil
  • 3 egg yolks (can be substituted with 2 full eggs) beaten well
  • 1 tablespoon, white vinegar
  • ½ cup, wine (any wine that you enjoy drinking)
  • Water (as required to make a firm dough)
For the filling:
  • 3 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1½ cups, confectioners sugar (do not use granulated sugar) - sugar quantity can be adjusted depending on how sweet you want the filling to be
  • ½ cup, candied mixed fruits (put more of the fruits that you like)
Method:

For the shell:

Mix all the ingredients (except water) making sure that there are no lumps. Keep adding water while kneading to form a firm dough. The more you knead the dough the better will the shells turn out. The dough must be firm and not sticky. If the dough has become a bit sticky due to extra water just add some more flour and knead till it is firm. Cover with a moist cloth and keep in the refrigerator for approximately an hour (do not freeze).

Keep the cannoli tubes ready. They should be washed and completely dried. Also cut a thick cardboard in an oval shape measuring approximately 6"x4½ " (for a cannoli tube which is 6" long) or approximately 8"x5" (for a cannoli tube which is 8" long).

Remove the dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface till it is really thin (thick dough will not make good shells) and about 8" in diameter. Place the cardboard over the rolled out batter and cut it into shape using a metal cutter.

Wrap this oval dough loosely around the cannoli tube with the edges slightly overlapping. You can seal the edges using water or lightly a beaten egg white and pressing it. Heat any vegetable oil for frying in a deep fry-pan. When hot enough, put the dough with the tube into the oil. Place as many as will fit into the pan, but make sure that they do not stick to each other.

Keep heat on medium high to avoid burning them. Keep turning them till they turn golden brown. Do not over-fry or else the shells will lose its flavor and give you a burnt taste. Remove the shells and place them on fresh absorbent paper towels. When sufficiently cool, remove the cannoli tubes to make more shells. When done, the shells can be stored in an airtight container. Care must be taken to avoid moisture coming into contact with the shells.

For the filling

Mix the ricotta cheese and confectioners sugar. Blend it till a thick smooth paste forms. Fold in the candied fruits. You can add a teaspoon of vanilla essence and some grated chocolate to this mixture. Keep this mixture refrigerated.

Preparing the cannoli

Just before the cannoli is ready to be served, take a shell and fill it with the chilled ricotta filling. You can sprinkle the ends of the cannoli with finely chopped dry fruits (almonds, pistachios, etc.) or powdered chocolate.

The perfect, all time favorite dessert 'cannoli' is ready. Serve immediately. You can also try using different wines and fruit vinegars while preparing the dough for the shells. Additions to the filling can be just about anything sweet. Once you get a hang of making the perfect simple cannoli, you can keep on experimenting with the filling.