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Holy Cannoli!

February 6, 2012

Until my husband and I had met, I’m not sure he knew what a cannoli was, or had even heard of it before.  One day, while watching an episode of “Cake Boss” on TLC we saw them making cannolis for a celebration at the bakery.  Up until that time, my husband couldn’t tell you the difference between a cannoli and a lanai.  Had you asked him what a cannoli was, he would have told you it was something to do with your house, or a piece of electrical equipment or any number of other things.  He’d never have been able to say that it was an Italian dessert.  Then, one day, we made a lunch stop at a place (see Stefano’s Gold’n Baked Hams) that actually served cannolis for dessert and I had to order some.  After taking one bite, I think my husband fell in love with the cannolis.  The creamy filling inside the crispy shell is a match made in dessert heaven.

A cannoli is a traditional Sicilian pastry dessert.  In Italian, the word cannolo literally translates to “little tube.”  While this dish is mainly enjoyed in Sicily, where it originated, in the Italian American community, a cannoli has become synonymous with Italian desserts in general.  A basic cannoli is a tube-shaped pastry dough that is deep-fried and filled with a sweet cream, generally made with ricotta cheese.  A cannoli, was originally prepared as a treat to be served during Carnevale season, but has since evolved into a treat served year round.  In order to pretty up the dessert, the cannoli cream may be flavored with vanilla or orange flower water or with cinnamon for flavor, and chopped pistachios, semi-sweet chocolate chips, or candied citrus peels or cherries are used to dot the open ends of the pastry.

Just before the holidays, while walking the aisles at my local Costco store, I saw them selling cannoli kits.  It looked more like something that was packaged together as a dessert that you could make with your kids.  Everything was pretty much ready-made for you.  I had pointed it out to my husband who had said not he wasn’t interested in trying it out.  After having discussed it later, since he never actually came to look at the packaging himself, he said he thought a cannoli kit meant that they provided you the dough and you still had to fry it and put together the cream and stuff it, etc. much the same way you see with cookie dough bought in packages at the store.  However, after I explained to him that the shells were already pre-made and the cream was already in pastry bags and all you needed to do was fill the shells, his tune changed.

The next time I went to Costco, he asked me to go ahead and buy a box of the cannoli kit and we could give it a try.  Lucky for me, this time on my trip to Costco, the cannoli kit was on sale!  It must have been a sign.  I bought a box and brought it home so we could give it a whirl and see what the verdict was on a boxed cannoli kit.

Upon opening the box, there are 2 trays, each with 12 pre-fried cannoli shells, packaged in a way that each shell nested in its own individual space so that the chances of the shells cracking or falling apart during transport would be difficult.  The kit also comes with 2 pastry bags of pre-made cannoli cream to fill the cannoli shells.  The pastry bags were more than enough cream to make the 24 cannolis.  In fact, after having stuffed each shell as full as possible, we still had half a bag of cannoli cream left over.

The cannoli cream that comes in the kit is a traditional ricotta based cream, with the addition of cinnamon for a bit of spice and flavor as well as semi-sweet chocolate chips mixed into the cream filling.

Assembling the cannolis was really easy.  You start by snipping off a 1/2″ from the pointed tip of the pastry bag in order to allow the cannoli cream to come out of the pastry bag.  You pick up a mini cannoli shell, stick the open end of the pastry bag into one end of the cannoli shell and start squeezing the pastry bag.  The shell will immediately fill with cream until you have cream coming out of the side you’re trying to fill.  You then turn the cannoli shell around and do the same with the other end of the cannoli.  When you’ve filled both sides of the cannoli, and there is cream coming out of both ends, you’re set.

It’s that easy to make a cannoli.  Well, I guess it’s that easy when you have pre-made shells and pre-made cream and all you need to do is fill the cannoli shells.  We ate our cannolis right away, but you can make it all fancy by just serving a couple of cannolis on a small plate and taking some powdered sugar and dusting the top of your cannolis with powdered sugar.  And you could go even further by melting some chocolate and drizzling the melted chocolate over the tops of the cannolis.  Or you can be like my husband and I who wanted to forego the formalities and just dig into these desserts.

It’s surprising how just a few cannolis will go a long way.  When you look at the cannoli, you think delicate pastry shell filled with some cream, it can’t be that filling.  But the cannoli shells do have a bit of volume to them, and since the cream consists mainly of ricotta cheese, it does become filling quite quickly as opposed to using a pastry filled with whipped cream.  This would be a great dessert project to make with kids so that they could stuff their own cannoli shells and reward themselves with cannolis they “made” themselves, or this can also serve as an elegant dessert to serve your guests at a dinner party; no one ever has to know that practically came made out of the box!

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