Everyone's had cannoli (if you haven't, stop reading right now and go to your nearest Italian bakery). Mmm, delicious little tubes of fried pastry, filled with sweetened ricotta and dusted with confectioner's sugar. Italy's version of the éclair.
If you're lucky, you've had them homemade—light and crispy with a creamy whipped filling, decorated with chopped pistachios or chocolate chips. If you're not as lucky, maybe you've had them from a bakery: pre-filled, not so crispy, sometimes too sweet and usually cold. If you're have terrible luck, you've had them a gas station--commercially produced, wrapped in a cellophane bag and made with ingredients I don't want to discuss. Up until a few years ago, I'd only had the latter two.
So when a good friend introduced me to Angelo Brocato's in New Orleans, a 100-and-some-odd-year-old gelateria, and recommended the cannoli, I wasn't too excited. As I waited in a horrifically long line of kids sampling 15 flavors each, and adults taking way too long to fill boxes of cookies, I had the time to notice a couple of things—a tray of freshly fried cannoli shells and two large bowls of ricotta were set on the back counter, alongside a spatula and a can of sugar.
As I ordered my dozen (which come in mini or regular sizes; plain or chocolate chip), my face lit up like the four year-old in front of me balancing a waffle cone full of Neapolitan gelato. While these weren't homemade, they were about as close to it as I was ever going to get. And fantastico they were! Light and crispy with tiny flecks of dark chocolate chips, the dough had a hint of lemon zest and marsala. It was the inspiration I needed for perfecting this dessert myself.
Since then, I've moved to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, a very Italian-American neighborhood that offers me an array of bakeries to choose from. Some of them are better than others; all of them sell cannoli. So when I don't have time to make my own, I'm lucky and can still get a decent fix.
About the author: Jennifer McCoy is the pastry chef at Craft in New York City. When she's not covered in flour or frying doughnuts, you can find her strolling the streets of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, with her little dog Olive.