You will need cannoli tubes—small metallic tubes for rolling the dough around (something like these)—to make this recipe.
I was inspired to try making these after tasting the crisp, ricotta-filled cannoli, dipped on both sides in chopped pistachios, at Caffe dell'Arte in the beautiful baroque town of Modica. I adapted a recipe I found in a Sicilan cookbook by Eleonora Consoli called La Cucina del Sole. It's one of these books that has no pictures and assumes you already know your way around a Sicilian kitchen.
Making them at home, I realized, is doable and not too tricky—if you follow some important tips:
-- Investing in a candy thermometer is handy for good frying results, but if you don't have one, throw a cube of bread into the hot oil to test if it's ready. It should brown in about 15 seconds.
--Roll out small portions of dough at a time—so thin that it's nearly transparent—and keep the rest of the dough chilled in the meantime.
-- A touch of beaten egg white will help hold the pastry ends together while frying. It's not traditional and expert Sicilian nonnas manage to make these without, but if you find the cannoli are opening during frying, then this will greatly help you.
-- You can make both the dough and the filling ahead of time.
-- Always fill the cannoli just before you want to serve them.
Variations: Some like to add a teaspoon of bittersweet cocoa powder in the dough for color. In terms of decorating, you can use whatever you like here, from chopped dark chocolate to pistachios to candied fruit (cherries and orange in particular). You can even mix candied orange or chocolate chips into the ricotta. Or, instead of ricotta, you can use pastry cream or chocolate pastry cream. —Emiko
To make the pastry, combine the flour, sugar, melted butter or lard, vinegar, honey, and cinnamon in a bowl. Add the water (or wine) bit by bit until you have a smooth, compact dough—you may not need any liquid it all. You may need to work this (kneading) quite a bit until it is soft and smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge at least 30 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the filling: Combine the ricotta with sugar and whip until you have a creamy consistency. If you need to loosen it, add a splash of milk. Chill until needed.
Cut off small, mandarin-sized portions of dough to work with at a time. Keep the rest wrapped and chilling in fridge. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a long rectangular shape until very thin, about 1-millimeter thickness (you should be able to nearly see through it!). Trim the edges and cut the piece of dough into 4- by 4-inch (10- by 10-centimeter) squares.
Place a cannoli tube on the corner of a square. Roll the tube to wrap the pastry around it and seal the opposite corner of the pastry by pressing gently (you can also dab a bit of egg white on the corners to seal more effectively).
In a small saucepan that will fit 2 to 3 cannoli tubes easily, heat enough vegetable oil so that the pastries will be covered. Over medium-low heat, heat the oil (if you have a candy thermometer, you want to reach about 330° F/165° C; see note above if not). When ready, cook 2 to 3 cannoli at a time, keeping a careful eye on them as they can brown too quickly or unroll themselves if they haven't been sealed well. When they are a deep brown color and the surface is bubbly and crisp, remove them with a slotted spoon and carefully place on kitchen paper to drain. Do not remove the tubes until they are completely cool.
Repeat with the rest of the dough. If they are coloring too quickly, the oil is too hot, so turn it down a notch and wait a few minutes before proceeding.
To assemble cannoli, just before serving, pipe the ricotta (or carefully spoon it with a teaspoon) into each cooled cannolo tube to fill. Then decorate as desired: Dust with powdered sugar, dip the ends into chopped chocolate or pistachios, or simply pop a candied cherry on one end. Or mix them up!
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.