Friday, July 22, 2011

The History of Cannoli

peanut butter cannoli from Stuffed Artisan Cannoli 

I thought it would be interesting to research the history of cannoli, since this blog deals with the lovely dessert quite often. I realize some readers may have never tasted a cannoli, you really should at least try it once. Once will not be enough, as it is a delicacy to be savored many times!! 

Zaro's in Grand Central Terminal 

It is probably the best-known Sicilian pastry. The cannolo, a crust filled with cream, takes its name from its long tubular shape and traces its roots to the Middle Ages. Originating in the Palermo area, they were historically prepared as a treat during Carnevale (Fat Tuesday) season, possibly as a fertility symbol. They eventually became a year-round staple throughout Italy. Originally honey was used to sweeten Sicilian sweets. The cheese cream used to fill cannoli is sweetened with sugar, I have used honey as well which gives the cream a lovely flavor. I also prefer confectioner’s sugar to granulated sugar for sweetening the ricotta crème. Mascarpone was the original cheese of choice for the filling, but ricotta has become more widely found.

the little guys at Ferrara's in Little Italy 

The term cannolo comes to us from a diminutive form of canna (a cane-like reed), such as a sugar cane stalk. In medieval times the tubular shell shape was formed by rolling the paste into a flat, circular shape, then wrapping it around a sugar cane stalk.

The versions with which Americans are most familiar tend to involve variations on the original concept. This is possibly due to adaptations made by Italians who emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s and discovered limited availability of certain ingredients. The cannoli sold in Italian-American bakeries today usually still contain ricotta, but mascarpone is a less common alternative. Sometimes the filling is a simple custard of sugar, milk, and cornstarch. In either case, the cream is often flavored with vanilla or orange flower water and a light amount of cinnamon. Chopped pistachios, semi-sweet chocolate bits, and candied citrus peel or cherries are often still included, dotting the open ends of the pastry. As an indication of how popular they are, there is a famous scene from the 1972 film The Godfather in which Peter Clemenza says to Rocco, who has killed Paulie in the car: "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

a mini cannoli from Cha-Cha's on Mulberry Street 

The crust should be very thin, and the best pastry makers prepare it that way. Ideally, the shells should be filled immediately before serving, and the cream should be cold but not close to freezing temperature. When you order one, they should be filled just as you place your order as sitting can make the shells soggy.

the authentic deal from italy by MariannF on Flickr  

Traditionally, cannoli are made with fresh ricotta cheese from sheep's milk. Ricotta from cows' milk has a different (milder) flavour. BelGioioso Cheese makes a Ricotta con Latte which is great for cannoli and desserts with ricotta in the recipe.

another great shot from MariannF via Flickr and Italy 

a cannoli shack on Mulberry Street in Little Italy...what a grand idea !! 

What is your favorite type of cannoli? I am torn between the shell dipped in chocolate or plain but with the wonderful ricotta filling inside. For the new flavor variety …Cha-Cha’s on Mulberry Street in Little Italy makes a hazelnut filling that was just out of this world! I also loved the Peanut Butter Cup from Stuffed Artisan Cannoli ….I had quite a smile on my face while eating it!!

Today's Words of Wisdom: Life is Short. Eat Dessert First. 



Grumpy1 said...

Agh - Rosemary - I just put on 20lbs! Oh, what a delighful post - and I tasted every word!

Karen @ Pas Grand-Chose said...

Oh no, you've made me ravenous reading this. Don't think I've ever had cannoli (shocking admission!) but am now dying to try! I also loved your previous post on the Borgias display at Macy's - what a visual treat - and thanks for the info about the TV series. I've just instructed the family back in London to put a series link on it immediately!

nycstylelittlecannoli said...

Glad you are liking...this one had some work behind it but thought it was needed on this blog! You must try one Karen...they are just so excellent!! :)

Anonymous said...

I also have never eaten a Cannoli. Where have I been? I must have one.

nycstylelittlecannoli said...

Susan: I would try a mini if you can find one first to see that you like it. It is for sure one thing you have to excellent!!

Celestial Charms said...

Gotta love a Cannoli Shack!

Paolo said...

What a great article! Thanks for sharing your research and for talking about authentic Italian food and culture.

It goes without saying that you deserve a Cannolo Award for the preservation of authentic Italian food. You can get it here:

All the best!

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