Daring Bakers: Cannoli

I think I got more excited about this challenge than any others I've done so far with the Daring Bakers! The macarons were frustrating and the puff pastry was fun, but cannoli are one of my favorite desserts, I don't have them very often, and I've never made them before. I couldn't wait to give it a try and see if mine could come anywhere close to ones from the wildly popular Mike's Pastry or Modern Pastry in Boston's North End.

To be honest, I never even thought about making my own cannoli. I've always envisioned making a cake with cannoli filling but never the actual shells. I just figured that making cannoli shells was something that only happened at Italian bakeries.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

I'm so glad Lisa Michele chose cannoli for this challenge. It pushed me to make something I might not have otherwise.

We were required to make the shells but could do whatever we wanted for the filling. I chose to make mini cannoli (how shocking that I might make something mini) filled with chocolate mousse, white chocolate cinnamon mousse, and regular cannoli filling.

I ordered mini cannoli forms and regular-size forms, but I never even opened the regular ones. The minis were just too adorable, and there wasn't so much dough that I felt overwhelmed by using it all to make minis, which I thought might happen. I'm sure I'll find a use for the regular-size forms eventually. I found four forms to be the perfect number: You can have two ready to go while you work with the other two in the oil.

There's nothing really tricky or unusual about making cannoli if you've worked with dough and you're comfortable with frying. To make sure they would work out okay, I fried one batch of dough one night and fried the rest the following night. The unfilled shells held up perfectly overnight. I stored them in a Ziploc bag with a paper towel to collect any remaining oil.

You can find the recipe below, or if you want a more complete version with total cooking time and necessary equipment, head to the Daring Kitchen.

Lidisiano's Cannoli Shells


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup Riesling (or Marsala or other sweet red or white wine)
1 large egg white
Vegetable oil for frying


In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight (I left mine for two days).

cannoli dough
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Starting at the middle setting, run one of the pieces of dough through the rollers of a pasta machine.

running cannoli dough through pasta machine
Lightly dust the dough with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Pass the dough through the machine repeatedly, until you reach the highest or second highest setting. The dough should be about 4 inches wide and thin enough to see your hand through.

rolled out cannoli dough
Continue rolling out the remaining dough. If you do not have enough cannoli tubes for all of the dough, lay the pieces of dough on sheets of plastic wrap and keep them covered until you are ready to use them. Cut out 1.5-inch circles. Roll the cut out circles into ovals.

cannoli circle
Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes for the first use. Roll a dough oval from the long side around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

cannoli dough wrapped around cannoli tubes
In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 1 to 1.5 inches. Heat until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

cannoli ready to be fried in oil
Carefully lower two of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

cannoli in oil
Using tongs, lift each cannoli tube out of the oil, making sure to drain the oil out of the tube back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Repeat with the remaining tubes. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

fried cannoli shells
Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, toss them in the freezer for a couple minutes to cool between uses.

fried cannoli shells
Cannoli Filling


32 ounces ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons grated orange zest


Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioners' sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl, and stir in zest. Chill until firm. (The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated.)

The chocolate mousse I used is from Cook's Illustrated, and the white chocolate cinnamon mousse is from Lindt Chocolate Passion.

When my friends came over, we started by dipping some of the cannoli in melted chocolate and then put them in the fridge to harden.

dipping cannoli shells in chocolate
chocolate-dipped cannoli shells
Then I supplied them with piping bags filled with the various fillings, chopped pistachios, chopped walnuts, and mini chocolate chips. We all went to town filling and decorating the mini cannoli.

We had so much fun creating different combinations of fillings and toppings. And we had even more fun eating the mini cannoli, which were more delicious than I imagined possible. The shells came out with just the right amount of crunch, and for the first time I noticed the levels of flavor in the dough from the wine, cinnamon, and cocoa powder.

I would definitely make these again!



Caramel-Pecan Bars

In lieu of baking a pie for our mini Thanksgiving dinner for two (since I knew I'd be making a pie for our actual Thanksgiving dinner), I made these scrumptious, gooey caramel-pecan bars. I was intrigued by them right away because they're a recipe from Ken Oringer (or technically his mother-in-law) -- who is pretty well known here in Boston (I saw him on the bus once after work and had to refrain from getting all school-girl giddy). He has several acclaimed restaurants, including KO Prime, Clio, Uni, Coppa, and Toro -- where I have been dying to go for a while now (hint, hint).

I figured if the food at his restaurants is held in such high regard, these caramel-pecan bars must be pretty amazing too. Oringer did not let me down. (And only these bars were able to sway me from my plan to just use recipes from the November issues of my magazines.)

Besides the turkey, this dessert was the most time-consuming part of my preparation -- but it was mostly wait time. It's nice to have some recipes for the big day that don't require your constant attention.

Below is my half-recipe version. It makes 9 bars, so we have each eaten one every night since Sunday, and there's just one lone bar left. I'm hoping a brawl doesn't break out!

Caramel-Pecan Bars (adapted from Food & Wine, December 2009)


1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons ice water
1/2 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
7 ounces pecan halves

caramel-pecan bar ingredients

Make the crust: In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the cubed butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle on the ice water and vinegar and process until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Turn the crumbs out onto a sheet of wax paper and knead just until the dough comes together. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until slightly chilled, about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper (foil works fine if you're out of parchment). Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper to a 10-by-10-inch square (1/4-inch thick). Trim the dough to an 8-by-8-inch square and place it in the baking pan. Cut the remaining dough into 3/4-inch-wide strips and press them up the side of the pan to form a rim all around. Refrigerate the dough until firm, about 30 minutes.

unbaked crust
Line the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans (or uncooked rice).

crust weighted with rice
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the dough is just set. Remove the parchment paper and weights and bake the crust for about 10 minutes longer, until lightly golden and set. Let cool.

golden baked crust

Make the topping: In a large saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, honey, and salt, and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until foamy and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

making caramel
Add the cream and cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer inserted in the caramel registers 240° (soft ball stage), about 10 minutes longer. (If you don't have a candy thermometer, I learned this great trick at the bakery where I work: Fill a glass with ice water, and drip a little bit of the caramel into the glass. Scoop out the caramel with your fingers, and roll it between your fingertips. If you can form it into a small, squishy ball, it's at soft ball stage. Following this trick actually enabled me to get caramel to work for the first time ever! I usually end up with rock-hard caramel.)

Add the pecans and cook for 2 minutes longer.

caramel and pecans
Pour the filling over the crust, spreading it evenly.

caramel and pecan filling in crust
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the topping is bubbling.

Let cool completely. Slide the parchment onto a cutting board.

Cut into bars and serve.

Make Ahead
The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

My homemade whipped cream is apparently highly regarded in our home (I'm not sure why, as it's just whipping cream or heavy cream, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla), so I whipped up a batch to serve with these bars. They're probably best eaten if you just pick them up and bite into them. But we treated them like small squares of pie and ate them with a fork and sufficient dollops of whipped cream. I can't imagine having chosen a better dessert for the occasion. Somehow dessert ended up being my favorite part of the whole meal, and that's saying a lot considering how delicious the other recipes were!

I made my first double-crust apple pie for the official Thanksgiving dinner at my boyfriend's parents' house today (as opposed to my mini Thanksgiving). So I'll be sure to write all about that once the food coma wears off!

Did you make a dessert for today? What did you make?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!


Thanksgiving Sides

I made two fabulous side dishes for my mini Thanksgiving dinner for two this past Sunday.

Mashed Potatoes with Crispy Shallots

mashed potatoes with crispy shallots
Roasted Vegetables With Pomegranate Vinaigrette

roasted vegetables with pomegranate vinaigrette
I thought both were great choices for a simple Thanksgiving dinner.

Before deciding on the mashed potatoes with crispy shallots, I tossed around other starch ideas, like a number of different stuffings, pommes Anna, and some other potato dishes. I ultimately went with these potatoes because they seemed simple but elegant. And they were.

You could honestly use any mashed potato recipe you want. It's the shallots that really add something. I kind of wish I had kicked up the mashed potato part a little because they really were just your typical mashed potato. My mom usually adds cream cheese when she makes hers, and I think it would have been perfect in these.

Below is the recipe, adapted from Food & Wine, to make enough for dinner for two and a couple days of leftovers.

Mashed Potatoes with Crispy Shallots (adapted from Food & Wine, November 2009)

3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 peeled garlic cloves
1 cup canola oil
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup half-and-half
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt


In a large pot, cover the quartered potatoes and garlic cloves with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the canola oil until shimmering. Add the shallots in a single layer and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until they are golden, about 15 minutes (This takes nowhere near 15 minutes, so watch them carefully. As soon as the shallots start to get golden, scoop them out because they'll brown up a little more out of the oil). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle the shallots with salt.

shallots in oil

crispy shallots
Drain the potatoes and garlic in a colander, shaking out the excess water. Discard the garlic. Toss potatoes in bowl of electric mixer and add the half-and-half and butter. Mix on medium speed until potatoes are smooth. Just before serving, garnish the potatoes with the shallots.

Make Ahead
The mashed potatoes can be made earlier in the day and kept at room temperature; warm over moderate heat, stirring constantly (or just toss them in the microwave). The fried shallots can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days; reheat in the oven if desired.

mashed potatoes with crispy shallots
You've probably noticed I've been on a little pomegranate kick lately -- inspired by National Pomegranate Month and free samples from PAMA and POM Wonderful. It seemed only appropriate that after looking at numerous vegetable side dishes, I should end up with one that includes pomegranate juice and pomegranate seeds.

Roasted Vegetables with Pomegranate Vinaigrette (adapted from Martha Stewart Living, November 2009)


1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 sweet potato, cut into half-inch chunks
1/2 pound brussels sprouts, halved
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss vegetables with 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread vegetables on baking sheet lined with foil. Roast for about 30 minutes, mixing halfway through.

While the veggies are roasting, make the vinaigrette. Pour pomegranate juice into a small bowl, and slowly whisk in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, drizzle pomegranate vinaigrette over the vegetables, and toss with pomegranate seeds.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving sides? Are you trying any new recipes this year?

There's Still Time To Brine!

mini Thanksgiving dinner for two
Your turkey, that is.

As you know from my mini Thanksgiving dinner post, I attempted roasting a turkey breast this year. I followed a fantastic recipe from Cook's Illustrated and ended up with some of the best tasting turkey I've ever had. I think I owe it all to the brining. The meat was incredibly moist and juicy. If you've thought about brining before but for some reason or other you've never tried it, try it this year! You won't be disappointed.

Mix 1/2 cup of table salt with 4 quarts of water in a large pot or container. Dunk your turkey in, cover it with plastic wrap, and pop it in the fridge for 3 to 6 hours. Be careful not to brine for longer than that as you may end up with a salty turkey. If you stick to the 3 to 6 hours, your turkey will have a deeper dimension of flavor and stay moist, but it won't taste like sea water.

When you remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it off with cold water and just pat it dry with some paper towels. Then follow whatever recipe you have planned.

I used Cook's Illustrated's recipe for Easy Roast Turkey Breast with Lemon and Thyme, mainly because thyme is one of my favorite herbs, and the Easy Roast Turkey Breast recipe seemed a little too plain (without gravy -- a roasted turkey breast doesn't yield enough pan drippings).

ingredients for lemon and thyme roast turkey breast
The original recipe called for a 6- to 7-pound whole turkey breast, but that would be much too big for just two of us, so we got a 3.5-pound one instead (and we had two nights' worth of leftovers!).

Here's how to make this turkey recipe...

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Mix together 4 tablespoons of softened, unsalted butter; 3/4 teaspoon of salt; 1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper; 3 medium garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press; 2 tablespoons of minced fresh thyme; and 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest. Set aside.

herb butter
Separate the turkey skin from the meat by carefully sliding your hand under the skin. I would have to say separating the turkey skin from the meat with my hands was one of the most unpleasant cooking experiences I've ever had, but it's not too difficult once you get started.

Using your hands or a rubber spatula, work the butter under the skin and spread it evenly.

Next, set a roasting rack inside a roasting pan, and spray the rack with nonstick cooking spray. Place the turkey on the rack, and pour 1 cup of water into the roasting pan.

turkey with butter and herbs rubbed under the skin
Roast the turkey for 30 minutes, and then lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Continue roasting for about another hour, until thickest part of the turkey breast registers 160 degrees on a meat thermometer.

Remove the turkey from the oven, and -- this is important -- let it rest! The juices will get absorbed back into the turkey while it's resting instead of running all over your cutting board if you cut it right away.

roasted turkey
Let it rest for at least 20 minutes. This will give you time to finish up your other dinner preparations.

To carve the turkey, cut each breast half away from the breastbone.

roasted turkey breast half
Place each half on your cutting board and cut on bias (slightly diagonally).

carving turkey
For some great turkey accompaniments, check out my mini Thanksgiving dinner for two!

mini Thanksgiving dinner
How are you planning to cook your turkey this year?


Herb And Cheese Poppers

I chose these herb and cheese poppers as the bread component of our mini Thanksgiving dinner for two because they are bite-sized and packed with flavor. I wanted a great tasting bread that we wouldn't get too full from so we could still enjoy the rest of the meal too. These did the trick. The thyme, basil, parsley, and sage really stood out, and I'm never one to turn down cheese!

Herb and Cheese Poppers (adapted from Bon Appetit/Peter Reinhart)


2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour plus 1/4 cup (or more) for dusting and rolling
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
1 1/2 cups chilled buttermilk


Line 2 (or 1, depending how many biscuits you want to bake) large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper (foil works fine if you've run out of parchment, as I did). Mix cheese and next 5 ingredients in medium bowl.

Whisk 2 3/4 cups flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda in another medium bowl. Using large holes of box grater (or the grating blade of a food processor -- it's so much easier!), grate frozen butter onto plate. Add grated butter to flour mixture and rub in with fingertips until evenly distributed. Stir in buttermilk just until incorporated (dough will be sticky).

Sprinkle work surface with 1/4 cup flour. Transfer dough to work surface; sprinkle dough with flour. Using hands, press dough into 8-inch square, about 1/2 inch thick; sprinkle more flour on work surface as needed to prevent sticking.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese-herb mixture over 2/3 of surface of dough, leaving remaining 1/3 of dough surface uncovered.

To fold as for business letter: Using dough scraper or metal spatula as aid, lift uncovered dough portion from work surface and fold over half of cheese-covered portion; still using dough scraper or metal spatula as aid, lift folded portion over remaining cheese-covered portion.

Sprinkle dough with flour to prevent sticking. Press dough out again to 8-inch square.

Spread 1/2 cup cheese-herb mixture over 2/3 of dough; repeat folding as for business letter, then pressing dough out to 8-inch square.

Repeat 2 more times with dough and cheese-herb mixture.

Roll out dough on floured surface to 10-inch square.

Cut into 36 small pieces.

If not baking them right away, place biscuits in single layer on baking sheets; refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until 20 minutes before you're ready to bake them. Let biscuits sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Otherwise, just place biscuits on baking sheets.

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 500°F. Bake biscuits, 1 sheet at a time, until golden on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 10 minutes. Cool biscuits on baking sheet at least 5 minutes.

If desired, cool completely, then rewarm biscuits in 400°F oven 3 minutes before serving. (We did this to rewarm the baked ones the next night. They were still really tasty.)

To freeze: Place any biscuits you don't plan on baking that day on baking sheets and freeze until firm. Wrap biscuits in single layer in foil, then enclose in resealable freezer bags; freeze up to 2 weeks. Place frozen biscuits 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets; thaw in refrigerator overnight. Let biscuits stand at room temperature 20 minutes before baking.