I get asked all the time for my cannoli recipe. The main thing component of a cannoli is it's filling. It is all about the filling. The shells can be either home made (if you are up to the task of making them) or simply buying the shells from your local Italian bakery or a specialty store. I have even seen them sold in local supermarkets across the country.
Although the recipe for the filling is quite simple, there is both and art and science to make the filling come out just right--not too thick or liquidity and not too sweet or too grainy. You are also looking for that nice shine that seems to make the cannoli come alive.
Mom always made her filling with just two ingredients--very dry ricotta cheese and confectioners' sugar. Albeit that hers alway came out great every time for me, I thought it a lacked a bit of body. So, I came up with my own recipe and made it fool proof to come out right every time. My secret is whipped cream and cream cheese. Yes, both! It gives great fullness to the filling and it punches up the ricotta's flavor. It is a bit more work to do, but it is well worth it when you taste it.
1 (15 oz.) container of whole milk ricotta (that you dry and strained) 1 cup heavy cream 1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp agar 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I put a drop more for flavor)
8 ounces of cream cheese (plain and NOT fat free; you need the added fat) Must be at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
This is how you make it:
Strain ricotta over night with a cheese cloth. I line the cheese cloth in a mesh strainer then put that over a bowl. Place ricotta in the cheese strainer (start in the morning - the drier the better but no more than two overnights).
Make sure you mix it a little so the ricotta will evenly strain as much as possible. Maybe twice during the day.
Mix the ricotta with the sugar until well combined using the paddle blade of your stand mixer.
In a separate chilled bowl whip the cream until almost set then add in the agar. This will help to set the cream and prevent it from running. You could also us gelatin, but I favor the agar as it is much simpler to do.
In a third bowl and using your paddle blade attachment blend the room temperature cream cheese until smooth.
Fold the cream cheese into the ricotta and followed by folding in the whipped cream into the two cheese mixture
Add the corn starch and fold into the mixture.
Folding the ingredients will prevent the breakdown of the air into the mixture.
Add mini semi-sweet chocolate bits, nuts or dried sliced fruit at this point and fold into the mixture.
Refrigerate for at least one hour to allow the mixture to set and firm up.
Fill shell and enjoy!
Cannoli filling is also good when you want to make a cassata. This is cake layered with cannoli filling. This cake cannot be beat. It beats buttercream hands down.
Cassata can be made into any desired round, square, sheet cake form or loaf layered. The one below is my latest creation that doubled as a Halloween and birthday cake. I like the more rustic looking cake for a cassata as it does represent the contadina "peasant" Sicilian style of cooking, baking and eating.