Cooking and baking in my Dad's house is taking a little bit of getting used to. He has a pretty large, absolutely gorgeous kitchen with a fantastic gas stove, but nothing is set up my way and I've been tripping and stumbling my way through even basic day to day cooking. I've gotten so used to working in my what used to be my tiny cramped kitchen in Binghamton, that everything was like a well choreographed dance. I knew where everything was, where everything went, and most of the time everything was in it's place. It was small, so I learned to be neat and clean up as I went; but now, faced with all this wonderful granite counter space, I've forgotten everything I've learned. Now, I have things on every counter, I search for a spatula and I have no idea what flours (probably none), sugars and spices are in the cabinets.
My idea of pantry staples are entirely different from his. My must haves include at least 3 kinds of flour, 2 kinds of sugar, various extracts, a couple pounds of butter (frozen), dried beans, vegetables (fresh and frozen), fruit, a variety of nuts, good quality baking chocolate, some grains, yogurt and low fat cottage cheese. His are something along the lines of 7 different cheeses, sandwich bread, bagels, pasta, store-bought soups, the phone to dial for takeout and his car keys to just straight-up go out for dinner. The only pantry staples I think we agree on are eggs and coffee.
Pictures courtesy of Nathalie Defrenne
Anyway, now I'm rambling but the point of all this is that I forgot to strain the ricotta before I made it into cannoli filling. I forgot to strain the ricotta because it didn't even occur to me to check the cabinet for cheesecloth. It didn't even occur to me, because why in the world would someone who doesn't bake anything have cheesecloth?
Well, it turns out there was not one but two packages of it in the drawer from the last time I made ricotta cheese. I found it by accident after it was already too late. I mixed all the right ingredients and it tasted like cannoli filling, but the consistency was far too loose. I made a new batch and mixed them together to firm it up. The consistency still wasn't quite right but no one else noticed the difference.
Picture courtesy of Nathalie Defrenne
The lesson in all of this? Alway, always strain the ricotta. Oh, and don't forget the mascarpone. I've been so focused on the ricotta, I've forgotten to tell you about the most important part - it's the key ingredient and what makes a good cannoli, an amazing cannoli.
Pictures courtesy of Nathalie Defrenne
This brings me to the shells. Maybe one day I will try making my own shells, but for now, I bought them. I'm just not interested in messing around with deep frying anything. Most bakeries are more than willing to sell you the empty shells and in the event that you can't find them - order them from Cannoli By Mail. There are very few bakeries in Binghamton so I ordered the mini shells online last weekend and they were very fresh. Now that I'm back downstate, bakeries abound and I simply stopped by my favorite french bakery this morning.
I used fresh full-fat ricotta cheese but I suspect a good quality part skim would work just as well. Filling can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for a day or two but don't fill the cannolis until you are ready to serve them (or no more than 4 hours in advance). Makes enough to fill 70 mini or 35 regular size shells.
4 cup mascarpone
4 cups whole milk ricotta
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
3-5 cups confectioner's sugar plus more for dusting
mini chocolate chips (optional)
70 mini or 35 regular size cannoli shells
Fold the cheesecloth so that it is several layers thick. Place the ricotta in the center, wrap it up and squeeze as much liquid out as you can. Put the strained ricotta in a food processor and process until smooth (about 20 seconds).
Combine the ricotta, mascarpone, vanilla and almond extracts in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until combine. Beat in 3 cups of confectioner's sugar and taste the filling. Add more sugar to taste for sweetness and proper consistency. It should be looser than a buttercream but thick enough to hold it's shape when piped.
Pour the mini chocolate chips on to a small plate and set aside.
Using a pastry bag (or in my case a large ziploc bag) and large decorating tip piped the filling into each end of the cannolis.
Dip each end of each cannoli into the chocolate chips to coat.