Holy Cannoli! There may be hope for me yet!

If you asked me how I've fared in each of the past Daring Bakers' challenges, my initial response would be "Loser." It's a good thing I have this blog to chronicle my kitchen antics because looking back through past challenge entries I realize that while each of the challenges seemingly had it's own aspect of failure, the end result could be chalked up in the "Winner" column. With this one exception, of course. There's always an exception to every rule. This month's challenge will most definitely be considered a "Winner" from beginning to end with absolutely no problems except (again with the exceptions) I can't stop stroking my own ego and patting myself on the back at how well I did!

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.

And boy, was I proud of myself! (There I go again...pat, pat, pat). There was quite alot of leniency in the challenge but having the fear of failure deep within me, I decided to stick pretty close to the recipe for the first time. Now that I know I'm an awesome cannoli maker (pat, pat) the sky is the limit for future batches. My only deviations from the recipe was in the filling. I did not add the pistachios and instead of the adding the chocolate, I added a whopping tablespoon of Nutella hazelnut spread which blended nicely with the orange zest flavor.

I wound up with nearly two dozen cannoli shells and if I had to confess to any problems, I'd say that I lost a few shells during the frying process because they floated right off the metal tube form. I made sure I really sealed the next batch with the egg white and had no problems. And at a temperature of 350 degrees, my shells only took about a minute to fry instead of the two minutes mentioned in the recipe. And don't let the frying aspect scare you...a heavy bottomed saucepan and a candy thermometer worked perfectly.

Thank you Lisa Michele for choosing such a winning recipe that proves there is hope for me yet in the world of Daring Bakers. I guess all the time spent with the Italian has paid off!

2 cups (250 grams/16 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Confectioners' sugar

Note - If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough.

2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios

Note - If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.

1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

2. Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

3. Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, oiled..lol). Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

6. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

7. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

Pasta Machine method:
1. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Starting at the middle setting, run one of the pieces of dough through the rollers of a pasta machine. Lightly dust the dough with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Pass the dough through the machine repeatedly, until you reach the highest or second highest setting. The dough should be about 4 inches wide and thin enough to see your hand through

2. Continue rolling out the remaining dough. If you do not have enough cannoli tubes for all of the dough, lay the pieces of dough on sheets of plastic wrap and keep them covered until you are ready to use them.

3. Roll, cut out and fry the cannoli shells as according to the directions above.

For stacked cannoli:
1. Heat 2-inches of oil in a saucepan or deep sauté pan, to 350-375°F (176 - 190 °C).

2. Cut out desired shapes with cutters or a sharp knife. Deep fry until golden brown and blistered on each side, about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove from oil with wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, then place on paper towels or bags until dry and grease free. If they balloon up in the hot oil, dock them lightly prior to frying. Place on cooling rack until ready to stack with filling.

1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

- Dough must be stiff and well kneaded

- Rolling the dough to paper thinness, using either a rolling pin or pasta machine, is very important. If the dough is not rolled thin enough, it will not blister, and good cannoli should have a blistered surface.

- Initially, this dough is VERY stubborn, but keep rolling, it eventually gives in. Before cutting the shapes, let the dough rest a bit, covered, as it tends to spring back into a smaller shapes once cut. Then again, you can also roll circles larger after they’re cut, and/or into ovals, which gives you more space for filling.

- Your basic set of round cutters usually doesn’t contain a 5-inch cutter. Try a plastic container top, bowl etc, or just roll each circle to 5 inches. There will always be something in your kitchen that’s round and 5-inches if you want large cannoli.

- Oil should be at least 3 inches deep and hot – 360°F-375°F, or you’ll end up with greasy shells. I prefer 350°F - 360°F because I felt the shells darkened too quickly at 375°F.

- If using the cannoli forms, when you drop the dough on the form into the oil, they tend to sink to the bottom, resulting in one side darkening more. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to gently lift and roll them while frying.

- DO NOT crowd the pan. Cannoli should be fried 2-4 at a time, depending on the width of your saucepan or deep fryer. Turn them once, and lift them out gently with a slotted spoon/wire skimmer and tongs. Just use a wire strainer or slotted spoon for flat cannoli shapes.

- When the cannoli turns light brown - uniform in color, watch it closely or remove it. If it’s already a deep brown when you remove it, you might end up with a really dark or slightly burnt shell.

- Depending on how much scrap you have left after cutting out all of your cannoli shapes, you can either fry them up and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar for a crispy treat, or let the scraps rest under plastic wrap and a towel, then re-roll and cut more cannoli shapes.

- Push forms out of cannoli very gently, being careful not to break the shells as they are very delicate. DO NOT let the cannoli cool on the form, or you may never get it off without it breaking. Try to take it off while still hot. Hold it with a cloth in the center, and push the form out with a butter knife or the back of a spoon.

- When adding the confectioner’s sugar to the filling..TASTE. You may like it sweeter than what the recipe calls for, or less sweet, so add in increments.

- Fill cannoli right before serving! If you fill them an hour or so prior, you’ll end up with soggy cannoli shells.

- If you want to prepare the shells ahead of time, store them in an airtight container, then re-crisp in a 350°F (176 °C) oven for a few minutes, before filling.

Bella Cucina!

I made a promise to myself a few weeks ago that I'd kick some of my eating habits to the curb so I'd be assured of fitting into my slinky cocktail dresses during the holiday season. Pfffft! Yeah. That lasted all of about two days. And who could fault me for gorging indulging in all the delicious food from this weekend?

Good Eats! Charlotte hosted a chili cook-off on Sunday and on Saturday, yet another Italian themed food event in conjunction with the Italian Social Club. My entry for the Italian contest was this fabulous looking White Chocolate Tiramisu Trifle with Spiced Pears from the December 2007 edition of Bon Appetit magazine. The photo alone was enough to make me wonder why I'd waited so long to try the recipe and with more booze than Grandma's rum balls at Christmas, it was a sure-fire winner in my book. I was up against some stiff competition and in the end, a traditional tiramisu took the much deserved first place award.

I made a few minor adjustments to the original recipe as posted below. I totally forgot the fresh ginger in the poaching liquid even though it was laying right beside the stove but I don't think anyone noticed. I used ground cinnamon and ground cardamom because I'd already spent the equivalent of my house payment on the other ingredients, so I used what I had on hand.

Congratulations to the winners from both contests and if you'll excuse me, I need to go let the seams out of my cocktail dress.

White Chocolate Tiramisu with Spiced Pears
Bon Appetit, December 2007

Spiced Pears:
1 750-ml bottle dry white wine
2 cups pear juice or pear nectar
1 1/4 cups sugar
12 whole green cardamom pods, crushed in resealable plastic bag with mallet
4 1-inch-diameter rounds peeled fresh ginger (each about 1/8 inch thick)
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
5 large firm but ripe Anjou pears (3 to 31/4 pounds), peeled

White Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse:
7 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), finely chopped
1/3 cup poire Williams (clear pear brandy)
1/4 cup water
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 8- to 8.8-ounce container mascarpone cheese*
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Trifle Assembly:
3 3-ounce packages soft ladyfingers,** separated
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup minced crystallized ginger
White chocolate curls
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

For spiced pears:
Combine first 6 ingredients in large saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Add pears and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until pears are just tender when pierced with knife, about 35 minutes. Transfer liquid with pears to large bowl and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.

Using slotted spoon, transfer pears to plate. Boil poaching liquid in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat until slightly thickened and reduced to generous 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Strain into 2-cup measuring cup; discard spices in strainer. Cool. Cover and chill pears and pear syrup until cold.

For mousse:
Combine white chocolate, pear brandy, and 1/4 cup water in top of double boiler set over simmering water. Stir until smooth (mixture will be very liquidy). Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; discard bean. Transfer white chocolate mixture to large bowl; gradually add mascarpone, whisking until mixture is smooth. Cool mascarpone mixture until barely lukewarm.

Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup cream in medium bowl until peaks form. Fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture in 4 additions. Cover and chill white chocolate mousse until set, about 3 hours. DO AHEAD: Pears and mousse can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

For trifle assembly:
Cut pears lengthwise in half and remove cores and stems; cut halves lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Arrange ladyfingers, rounded sides down, in single layer in bottom of 12-cup trifle dish (about 8 inches in diameter and 5 inches deep), covering bottom completely (using about 15 ladyfingers). Drizzle 5 tablespoons pear syrup evenly over ladyfingers. Using small offset spatula, spread 1/3 of white chocolate mousse over ladyfingers, making layer slightly thicker around outer edges of dish to allow mousse to be more visible (center of mousse layer will be thin). Starting at outer edges of dish, place pear slices in single layer with curved edges against sides of dish atop mousse, covering completely. Repeat layering of ladyfingers, syrup, mousse, and pears 2 more times. Cover with fourth layer of ladyfingers (some ladyfingers and pear slices may be left over). Drizzle ladyfingers evenly with 5 tablespoons syrup. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate trifle and remaining pear syrup separately.

Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups whipping cream in large bowl until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup pear syrup and beat until stiff peaks form. Working in batches, transfer cream to large pastry bag fitted with large star tip. Pipe rosettes all over top of trifle, mounding slightly in center. Sprinkle with crystallized ginger. Garnish with chocolate curls. DO AHEAD: Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Sift powdered sugar over trifle just before serving.

* Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese; sold at many supermarkets and at Italian markets.

** Available in the bakery or bread section of some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores.

To make chocolate curls, place one 3 1/2-ounce bar of high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina) on a plate and microwave on high at 5-second intervals just until slightly softened, but not hot or beginning to melt. Using vegetable peeler and starting at one long edge of the chocolate bar, shave white chocolate into curls. If the shaved chocolate breaks into small shards, it's not soft enough, so place in microwave again for a few seconds. If the chocolate becomes too soft, let it stand at room temperature or chill briefly until it firms up a bit.

Rest In Peace

I'm not one to lay awake, tossing and turning at night fraught with stress and anxiety. Usually, I'm lucky if a full 30 seconds pass after my head hits the pillow before my sweet dreams barge into the darkness. But lately that hasn't been the case. Thoughts of recent failures swirl in my head night after night, making sleep nearly impossible. Whispers and voices were mocking me and I had to find the source of those voices...had to smother it with my pillow and put it on permanent hiatus.

Late one night after the haunting started, I stole through the darkness and followed the voices. Since the last Daring Bakers' challenge had been the source of my nightmares, it was no surprise that the voices led me straight to the leftover almond flour in my pantry. The bag sat on the shelf taunting me, issuing a challenge to do better. And in an effort to reduce the black circles forming under my eyes, I accepted that challenge.

The source for my original attempt gone very wrong at espresso flavored macaroons came from the September 2008 issue of the now defunct Gourmet magazine. I had torn the recipe from the magazine and filed it away and since I had just enough uber-expensive almond flour to try this recipe, I figured there was nothing to lose but more precious beauty sleep.

Maybe it was because I had already failed once and learned from my mistakes. Maybe it was because Gourmet's recipe was just a better recipe. Either way, I can finally claim victory over the doomed macaroons and peaceful slumber will soon be mine. I've copied the recipe in its entirety but chose not to use the blackberry jelly, opting instead for Nutella hazelnut spread. The combination produced an excellent tasting caffeine and chocolate jolt to the system guaranteed to keep anyone awake for days should you get so excited that you nearly eat the entire batch (ask me how I know that).

Sweet dreams....

Espresso-Blackberry Macarons
September 2008

Makes 2 1/2 dozen sandwich cookies

For macarons
3 oz almond flour (2/3 cup) or blanched sliced almonds (3/4 cup) or slivered almonds (2/3 cup)
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon instant-espresso powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg whites, at room temperature 30 minutes
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
For filling
3 About 1/2 cup blackberry jelly

Equipment: a food processor with a sharp blade or an electric coffee/spice grinder; a large pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch plain tip or a qt-size sealable bag with a corner snipped off; an offset spatula

Make macaron batter:
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Grind almond flour or almonds with confectioners sugar in food processor until powdery, 30 seconds for almond flour, about 2 minutes for almonds. (If using grinder, grind in small batches.) Sift through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl (if not fine enough for almost all of nuts to go through sieve, regrind). Sift again into a large bowl.
Stir together espresso powder and vanilla in a cup until powder has dissolved.
Beat egg whites with salt in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Beat in granulated sugar, a little at a time. Increase speed to high and beat until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks, about 1 minute. Add espresso mixture and mix at low speed until incorporated. Fold meringue into almond mixture with a rubber spatula until completely incorporated. (Meringue will deflate and batter will be loose.)

Pipe and bake macarons:
Put small dabs of batter under corners of parchment to secure to baking sheets.
Spoon half of batter into pastry bag. Holding bag vertically just above baking sheet, pipe 1 1/2-inch-wide mounds of batter about 1 inch apart, stopping pressure and flicking tip sideways to avoid peaks (tamp down any peaks with a wet finger). Refill pastry bag and repeat. Let macarons stand, uncovered, at room temperature until a light crust forms, 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.
Bake macarons, switching position of sheets halfway through, until crisp and interior does not give easily when a macaron is gently pressed, 22 to 28 minutes total. Cool completely on baking sheets (for residual heat to harden bottoms) on racks, about 30 minutes. Loosen macarons from parchment with offset spatula (they will be fragile).

Assemble cookies:
Sandwich flat sides of macarons together with a thin layer of jelly.
Layer macarons between sheets of parchment in an airtight container and let stand at room temperature at least 2 hours to soften before eating.

Cooks’ note: Filled macarons can be kept in an airtight container wrapped in plastic wrap, chilled 2 days or frozen 1 month. Bring to room temperature in wrapped container (to avoid condensation), about 1 hour if chilled or 2 hours if frozen.

Wish Upon A Chef Template by Ipietoon Cute Blog Design