I've been pretty MIA on the food blog scene. Between Holiday Hell and the sickness that would not leave our entire house for weeks, things are finally beginning to get back to normal around here and so does follow food and blogging.
I item I wanted to blog quickly that I think is a great dessert to have (without or without shell) is cannoli. Cannoli are a cinnamon-flavored dough that's rolled thin and shaped into a tube then fried until crispy. It's then stuffed with a ricotta-based cream filling usually mixed in with mini-chocolate chips. The shells can be served plain or dipped in chocolate and served as is, coated in sprinkles, or even finely chopped pistachios. The whole thing is then dusted in festive powdered sugar. Cannolis are a traditional dessert in Italy, particularly in Sicily, and were brought over to America with the Italian immigrants at the turn of the century. And thank God they did, because I love cannoli!
The Hubsters is 1/2 Sicilian, and cannoli were a staple at the holiday table growing up. I've been trying to figure out how to make them for years, and finally figured out the perfect filling. It's very easy and doesn't require a lot of ingredients to make it great, but rather one simple but essential technique: draining the ricotta.
Many years I got the flavor combination for the filling correct but the texture was off -- too watery or too thick. Finally I figured out the secret is to drain the ricotta overnight on a paper towel or two in the fridge. This takes out just enough moisture to make it thick and creamy, but leaves enough so it doesn't get dry and crumbly. I was shocked to see many cannoli recipes don't mention draining the ricotta. Maybe it's a known fact, but I didn't know this and it makes all the difference in the world.
Second, I flavor my ricotta with some freshly zest orange. It brightens the entire mixture instantly as well as giving a very lovely scent and color. I use mini chocolate chips because my husband asks for it; you can use larger sizes if you like or omit them completely. I also flavor my cannoli with a dash of vanilla -- again, gives a lovely scent as well as rounding out the perfect flavor. I use vanilla powder instead of extract for this dish because it adds vanilla flavor without added moisture. Too much moisture and you'll get a runny cannoli filling!
The recipe here is for the filling. I use store-bought cannoli shells because it's easier. One day I'll buy the equipment and make the shells from scratch. But you can certainly use store-bought. This recipe makes enough to fill 6 large cannoli shells.
1 (15 oz) container whole-milk ricotta cheese (don't use skim or fat free for this!)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla powder (or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract)
1 Tbsp freshly grated orange zest
1-2 Tbsp mini-chocolate chips (depends on how much you like mixed in for texture)
6 store-bought cannoli shells (optional)
Line a bowl with two sheets of paper towels. Scoop out the ricotta right onto the towels and lightly cover with another paper towel on top. Place in fridge and let stand at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Change the paper towels at least once halfway through. You'll see the towels will get quite soaked through; this is the key to a good cannoli filling. You can do this ahead of time.
When you're ready to make the filling, place the drained ricotta in a large mixing bowl. Beat with handheld mixer fitted with paddle attachments on medium speed to help smooth out. Beat for a minute or two. Turn the speed on the lowest setting, and begin adding the powdered sugar slowly. Mix the sugar into the ricotta, then when fully incorporated, add some more sugar until you use everything up. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and continue to beat the mixture until ingredients are very well combined. You should have a pretty smooth consistency. Give it a taste and add more sugar if you want it sweeter. Cannoli filling should be sweet but not saccharine.
Note: If you found you drained your cheese too long and the mixture is a bit too stiff and not really creamy, you can add a splash of cold heavy cream or half n half and continue to beat until incorporated This should thin out the mixture to a proper consistency.
Fold in the chocolate chips using a spatula.
Your filling is now ready.
For easy piping, take a gallon sized plastic storage bag with Ziploc and transfer the ricotta mixture to the bag. At this point, if you want to fill your cannoli later you can just pop the bag in the fridge until you're ready to fill. When ready to fill, take one bottom corner of the bag and cut off the edge of the corner creating a pastry bag. Take a shell and begin to squeeze the mixture into the shell on one end. Turn and fill in the other end. Repeat with remaining shells.
When shells have been filled place on platter and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.