Charcoal and Cannoli

Recently, I revisited younger days of peak personal creativity; days where art, poetry and much tea prevailed. Later days followed with continued creativity, although accompanied not by tea, but by coffee instead. It was during these years of so much written and visual creation that my love affair with coffee was renewed. Espresso filled days of sketching and painting, and days spent striving to be clever over steaming cups of cappuccino. This is when I was still listening, incessantly, to the distinctive and divine genius of Michael Hedges. So many days of personal creation when pencil and charcoal also made distinctive noise, when pulled across heavy paper.

These days, my creativity occurs mostly in the kitchen. And just as charcoal has a distinctive feel when held between fingers creating, thick, sweet dough also has a distinctive feel between fingers baking. Without a pasta roller, working with cannoli dough demands a certain patience. But finally, the dough is ready, then cut, molded, and fried. The results more than reward the effort. A truly happy calm comes from delicious homemade cannoli. Homemade mocha cannoli creates near euphoria.

Mocha Cannoli
(recipe courtesy The Ultimate Espresso Machine Cookbook, Tom Lacalamita)

For the Cannoli Shells:
4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons vegetable shortening
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons white white vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or more as needed
(I added a little unsweetened cocoa also).

For the Mocha Cannoli Cream:
2 cups whole-milk ricotta
1/4 cup granulated sugar (I substituted confectioners sugar)
2 tablespoons Espresso Concentrate (I substituted Espresso Coleur)
3 tablespoons mini semisweet chocolate chips (I substituted regular sized chips)

To finish the Dessert:
Vegetable oil for frying
Confectioners sugar for sprinkling
(I also dusted with unsweetened cocoa powder.)

Prepare the cannoli dough: In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and shortening, using an electric mixer. Mix in half of the beaten egg (approximately 2 tablespoons, reserving the remainder), vinegar, water, honey, and cinnamon. Gradually add the flour and mix until a stiff dough is formed. Add more flour if necessary. Form the dough into a flat circle. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.

Prepare the cannoli cream: Place the ricotta in a large strainer lined with cheesecloth or a sheet of paper towel. Place over a large bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight to drain.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the drained ricotta, sugar, and espresso concentrate. Beat on high with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Fold in the chocolate chips. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.

Prepare the cannoli shells: When the dough has chilled sufficiently, gently roll it out on a lightly floured work surface until it is slightly less than 1/8-inch thick. You can also roll the dough out using a hand-cranked pasta maker as follows: Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and shape into balls. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand and sprinkle lightly with flour. Roll the dough through the pasta maker on the highest setting. Reinsert the dough and roll through the next succeedingly lower settings until the dough is 1/8-inch thick. Once the dough is rolled out, cut out as many 4-inch circles as possible. You should wind up with 18 to 20 circles.

Lightly grease the cannoli tubes with vegetable oil or shortening. With the rolling pin, gently flatten each 4-inch circle of dough, in one direction only, so that it becomes oval (the oval should be slightly shorter than the cannoli tube). Wrap the dough oval around the cannoli tube. Lightly brush one edge with reserved beaten egg to seal. Do not get egg on the tube or it will stick to the pastry. Continue until all the tubes are wrapped with the dough.

Fry the cannoli shells: Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a medium-size, deep skillet to approximately 350�°F. Fry the cannoli, two at a time, until lightly golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. While still warm, gently slide out the cannoli tube and repeat the process until all the shells are fried and the remaining dough has been used.

Fill the cannoli shells: When the shells are cooled and you are ready to serve, remove the filling from the refrigerator. Fill the shells by using either a teaspoon or a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4-inch plain, round tip. Dust with confectioners sugar. Cannoli shells can be prepared and stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week before filling. If you like to plan very far in advance, you can store the unfilled shells in the freezer for up to 30 days.

Yields approximately 18 cannoli.

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