Canolo Mio: November 2009 Daring Baker Challenge

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.

The recipe for these Cannoli was titled Lidisano, a very Italian sounding name if you ask me, but she also adds: "the name ‘Lidisano’ is a combination of Lidia, Lisa and Sopranos".

This month, I was fooled by the opening lines that this challenge wouldn't require baking. Then I read my dreaded words "Deep Frying". I'll admit that I've never deep-fried anything in my life, and this rendered me very procrastinative for this challenge. I've pan-fried, but always with minimal fat in a non-stick skillet - so I guess that's really not even close. I am not opposed to eating the occasional fry or onion ring either, but somehow, I never had the urge to do this in my hood-free home. Fortunately, I did my homework (as promised) and did a lot of thinking through. Not only was this a fun challenge, I discovered the joys of deep-frying.

As always, I'll let the pictures tell the story:

I decided to make the optional ricotta cheese. I've made this before, though not for some time. Ounce for ounce, I'd say that homemade ricotta (one gallon milk to one quart buttermilk, though I made only half) is worth making over buying. Not only can the taste convince you, but it's really not all that expensive to make. I made a half batch, and my yield was about 2 1/2 cups. Your yield will depend on the fat content of your milk, and I used whole for the sake of the Daring Kitchen and Thanksgiving spirit.

I made a makeshift bag out of cheesecloth and tied it from my cabinet to let it drain. It was delicious, dry curd cheese when it emerged.

I did this step a couple days before the frying stage. It will last about a week in the fridge. I'm planning a lasagna out of the remainder. If I have too many leftovers after our Thanksgiving dinner to attend to, I think I'll assemble it and freeze it, though I'm not sure about freezing the ricotta by itself.

So, true to my procrastination, I made the dough yesterday afternoon. It needs a couple hours in the cold to relax, and I thought I could fry it today if I felt like it. (After all, everything is basically done for my Thanksgiving dinner. I think Thanksgiving seems to be a little different than most dinners, since everything can be made mostly in advance. I find myself with more time than I thought today, until 3 p.m. when my prep work will pay off and I have to turn on the oven.) I ended up deciding to make the shells last night after all.

I opted to use the pasta machine rolling option. The reason my dough is that peculiar shade of burgundy is that I used red wine as my acid. The recipe called for sweet Marsala or any red or white wine on hand. In any future cannoli making events, I think I would use white just to have a more attractive color in my end product. These did taste delicious, though. As they fried, I could smell the wine evaporating, and in the end only had a nuanced taste of alcohol.

I cut the circles with a 3 inch cutter, and layered them in the plastic wrap to await their fried baths. This dough was incredibly elastic. The other thing I noticed about this challenge is that it wasn't really messy. The dough was clean to work with, and didn't even need much flour to roll out. And the frying was a breeze too. I was so surprised at this, since I thought for sure I was going to need to wash the floor and wipe up spattered oil from everything. In truth, I didn't even need to wash more than the stand mixer bowl, the oil pan and the candy thermometer!

My fry station.

I decided to use grapeseed oil to fry. And those takeout chopsticks were my only other tool needed. I spread some newspaper on a sheet pan, laid a sheet of paper towel on top, and waited for the oil to come to temperature: 350-375 degrees.

I used a small pot, since I knew I was going to make the stacked cannolo, and it required me to use less oil. I used about 3 cups to come to a depth of about 2 inches. A strange thing happened to me: I fried each cannolo by itself, and I got to know the temperament of hot oil. By about the 3rd round, I knew how many seconds before I needed to flip, and by about the 10th, I knew how to control the heat to maintain about 370 degrees. I could physically see the differences in cannoli fried at 350 and those fried at 370+. Amazing. The beautiful blistering came at the higher temperature. I have new appreciation for fry cooks.

For health reasons, I don't think I'll take up frying on an everyday basis, but I enjoyed this! I had the quiet kitchen to myself (since I started after Boy-O's bedtime), and with zen like precision, I carried out my 4th daring baker task. After all the rounds were fried, I pulled out the pumpkin-ricotta filling I made earlier in the afternoon, and filled a pastry bag.

The pumpkin filling was tasty, if not a touch on the sweet side, and indeed the only thing bothering me about the my whole challenge experience was the color combination of my finished product.

But after my first bite, I wasn't too worried about that. The shells were perfectly crisp, and the filling perfectly and pumpkinly creamy.

You can find the recipes for this month's Daring Baker Challenge at The Daring Kitchen website, if you find yourself curious about deep frying. If you do carry out the task, I hope you are as pleasantly surprised by the results as I was!