Orange Zest Cannoli

Cannoli shells are so easy to make and I can’t believe I ever settled for the store-bought kind in the past. Homemade shells are thinner, crispier and just taste better. If you don’t have a deep fryer – never fear! – just use a dutch oven instead. I hope that the inclusion of some of my hints will help – I know that making my own cannoli shells was always a daunting task in the past, but now that I have done it – I’ll never go back!

You will need some special equipment to do this at home however:

Obviously,  these are my recommendations, but if you find alternative brands that work for you – that’s what you should stock in home!

Here are ingredients for the various stages of the cannoli process (yields about 16 cannoli):

Cannoli Filling:

  • 8 ounces good quality whole milk ricotta, drained overnight in a fine-mesh sieve
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • Finely chopped bittersweet chocolate, for garnish

Cannoli Shells:

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed (hint: I cut each tablespoon into twelve little cubes…makes things easier)
  • 5 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For Frying:

  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Instructions

Ricotta
Strain the excess whey from the ricotta by placing it in a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth over a small bowl. Cover the ricotta with plastic wrap and transfer it to the fridge to drain for 8 hours or overnight.

Cannoli Dough
Add flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt into food processor; pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until the mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the Marsala wine and eggs and process until a smooth dough forms. Transfer dough to a floured work surface and knead until smooth (about 1 minute). Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

Cannoli Filling
While the dough is chilling in the fridge, place the ricotta, mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and orange zest in a mixing bowl and whisk smooth. Transfer the filling to a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip. Chill filling until ready to pipe into cooled cannoli shells. HINT: if your filling seems too loose, you can add some more powdered sugar or a little bit of cornstarch to thicken it up. Just be careful adding too much more sugar as the sweetness can become overwhelming.

Rolling Cannoli Shells
Use whatever pasta machine you have (whether it be the counter top kind or the KitchenAid attachment like I have). Start with the rollers on the widest setting. Divide the chilled dough into quarters using a bench scraper. Work with 1 piece of dough at a time while keeping the remaining dough wrapped in plastic. Flatten the dough quarter and pass it through the machine. Decrease setting by one notching at a time and pass dough through rollers until dough it about 1/8-inch thick. (Alternatively, you can roll the dough out very thinly with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface if you do not have a pasta machine). HINT: on the KitchenAid pasta roller, I stopped at #5 setting as the dough was plenty thin at that point.

Using a 4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out dough and transfer to a sheet of parchment paper. Working with one dough circle at a time, wrap dough around a cannoli form and brush edges with egg white to seal. Stand the cannoli wrapped forms on end (don’t lay them flat – the egg white will make them stick to everything, including parchment paper.  HINT: the egg white is what causes the bubbles to form on the surface of the cannoli shell. If you want a very smooth cannoli shell, but sure to only brush the seam where the dough ends meet. HINT 2: DO NOT get egg white on the cannoli form. Use it very sparingly. If you get egg white on the form, you will have a very tough time getting the fried shell off the form after frying.

Frying Cannoli Shells
Pour about three inches of oil into medium heavy saucepan (like a dutch oven) and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350F. Work in batches, frying cannoli wrapped forms until light brown and crisp. HINT: I did 1-minute, then flipped the forms and did another minute (for 2 minutes total). Using tongs, carefully transfer cannoli to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.While hot, carefully remove cannoli shell from form and set aside on a wire rack to cool. HINT: never handle the forms with bare hands, use a kitchen towel to grasp an end and the tongs to nudge the shell from the form. Repeat frying procedure with remaining dough.

Assembly
When the shells are cooling, pipe filling into each shell. HINT: I find that piping in from each side results in prettier ends, but you can always pipe from one side and fill until you see the filling on the other side. Garnish ends of each cannoli with chopped chocolate if desired and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

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