Cannoli, or Kannoli as the Maltese spell them, are the dessert in this part of the Med. You’ll find them in every pasticceria. They are the go-to gift for guests to take to lunch or dinner party hosts, as well as a regular treat when visiting ‘nanna’ for Sunday tea.
An import recipe to Malta from Sicily, cannoli are just about as iconic and traditional a southern Italian and Maltese sweet as you can get. Surprising then that in all my years in Malta, and despite many trips to Sicily, I’ve eaten them probably only a couple of times. The reason I rarely pick them as my choice dessert is that I just can’t abide anything fried!
This recipe is for baked cannoli; a method I never knew was an option until I went to buy some cannoli rods last week. The shopkeeper in the age-old, vast ironmongery cum cook shop in Valletta’s Merchant’s Street asked me if I wanted cannoli rods for fried or baked versions. The rods for baking cannoli were of a larger diameter and length. A couple of times experimenting and I think I’ve perfected the baked ones. They aren’t quite as crisp, but I don’t mind the compromise as I loathe the idea of deep-fat frying. What better way to celebrate the onset of summer and the end of the strawberry season than the Maltese equivalent of an English cream tea – cannoli with strawberries and a ricotta cream.
There ends my cannoli write-up as the photos do the talking on this one. This quantity makes around 16-18, depending on how thin you roll the dough. The thinner, the crisper they bake. They don’t hang around anyway! Stored in an air-tight container, they’ll last a good three days, but are best eaten on the day of making. Ideally, fill them just before you serve so the pastry doesn’t go soggy with the ricotta filling. For 18 cannoli, you’ll need about 1kg ricotta, and try to find a drier variety as some brands in plastic tubs have water with them. In Malta, aim to buy fresh hunks of ricotta from the deli counter. If using a supermarket brand, drain it first through a fine sieve.
All images © Liz Ayling 2014
- 400g plain flour, tipo ’00’print button transparent
- 75g butter
- 35g caster sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 egg white
- ¼ wine glass white wine (dry or sweet will do)
- 700g ricotta
- 4 tbsps caster sugar
- vanilla essence – a few drops if desired.
- Making the dough:
- Place the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor and pulse to combine. Then, add the egg yolks and white, and pulse a few more times. Finally, pour the white wine in slowly from the top of the processor; this time on setting 1 speed. You may need more or less wine to get the dough to start to combine. When gathering into large crumbs in the processor, tip out on a lightly-floured board and combine into a single ball of dough. Knead lightly, cut the ball in half and then flatten into discs. Cover with cling film or wrap in baking paper and chill for half an hour in the fridge.
- When the dough is chilled, pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan). Take one disc and roll it out on a lightly-floured surface to around 2-3mm or as thin as possible. Using a straight-sided pastry cutter or a saucer as a template, cut out circles with a diameter the same as the cannoli rod length.
- Roll each cannoli circle around the rod, overlapping edges slightly and pressing them together lightly. If they don’t stick, lightly brush with water to hold. Place cannoli in their rods on a non-stick baking tray and bake for approx. 12 mins or until very slightly golden. Test the bottom of one to see if the pastry is cooked. It will harden more on cooling. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 mins in their rods; then remove the rods and cool completely.
- Ricotta filling:
- Whip up the ricotta and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. You can do this by hand with a fork or whisk. Add vanilla essence if using. You could also use chopped glacee’ cherries and/or finely chopped plain dark chocolate.
- Making up Cannoli:
- Using a piping bag and a 1cm diameter nozzle, pipe the ricotta mix into the cannoli tubes, being careful not to break them. Dust cannoli with icing sugar, if desired, and serve as is or with accompanying fruit like strawberries or other soft fruits in season.
- Storing: Once filled, the cannoli can be stored in the fridge for a day, but are best filled and eaten to order. Unfilled tubes will keep for up to 3-4 days in an air-tight container.