It started as a Short Stop in Sicily
But it lead to a cooking class, how could you possibly pass up an invitation in to the kitchens to make your own cannoli. On a trip to Noto, we stopped about 35 minutes south of Palermo in a small town of Piana degli Albanesi. Yes, as the name implies it was settled by 15 century Albanian refugees; the Christian southern Albanians who were attacked by the Ottomans and forced to flee via the Adriatic. In 1488, the Archbishop of Monreale granted them land to settle and continue practicing their Orthodox religion. Today some still speak the pre-Ottoman Tosk dialect spoken in southern Albania. Even roadside signs are bilingual on this plain.
Besides being of historical interest in their heritage, this town is known for that famous Sicilian treat Cannoli! Several bakeries and chefs here compete for the reputation of the best. I settled for La Piana delle Bonita. In the kitchens, we whipped the sheep’s milk ricotta after pressing it through a sieve (note cow’s milk ricotta is too watery). Whipping in the confectioner’s sugar and at the end the chocolate morsels. Then upstairs to make the shells and rolling the dough as thin as you were making a pasta for ravioli. Get your stainless steel cannoli tube, roll, seal and fry. Back a less than hundred years or so, they would have used river canes around which they would wrap the shells, hence perhaps the origin of the name.
The history has its variations, but as Sicily has passed through so many invaders hands it would make sense that it was the Arabs that left a version to modify. Following the end of Arab rule in Sicily, the harems disappeared and it is not inconceivable that Muslim women handed down the recipe to Christian sisters who began to produce it at first only during the carnival period.
Like all recipes there are versions from family baker to baker but always using the best raw materials: true Sicilian cannoli are made using fresh sheep's-milk ricotta lightly sweetened. Some choose to add cocoa and Marsala to the dough. Others instead use aromatize the dough even with coffee or cinnamon. As any good Sicilian knows, you do NOT fill the shell until it is time to eat and then garnish with chopped Bronte pistachios, Modica chocolate flakes and Ribera candied orange peel as decoration.
For the cannoli:
1 cup all-purpose flour 6 Tsp. Marsala 1 1/2 Tbsp. dry white wine 1 Tbsp. sugar 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened 3/4 Tbsp. cocoa 2 tsp. ground coffee 1 egg white peanut oil salt
For the filling:
2 1⁄3 cups sheep ricotta (or use drained Ricotta impastata) 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar 2 1/2 oz. candied orange peel 1⁄3 cup chocolate chips orange blossom water pistachios, finely chopped
Method, for the cannoli:
Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, coffee and sugar in a large bowl and add a pinch of salt.
Cut softened butter into 1/2” pieces and add to the bowl, along with the Marsala and white wine, then knead until a smooth dough forms.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Roll out the dough. Cut 16 circles (4” in diameter) and roll each one into an oval shape.
Wrap each oval around a greased 1” cannoli mold, lapping the opposite edges over one another. Seal the edges by brushing with egg whites.
Heat oil to 340°F and deep fry the dough for a couple of minutes; drain on kitchen paper and let cool completely.
Method, for the filling:
Beat the ricotta with a whisk until soft, then add the powdered sugar.
Combine with the chopped candied orange peel, chocolate chips and 2 Tbsp. orange blossom water.
Fill the cannoli shells, dip the ends in the pistachios and top with powdered sugar.