Going to the North End for Italian pastries can get expensive so over the years the wife and I have played with different recipes for making our own pastries at home. Replicating that Italian pastry shop taste is hard, but it's not impossible.
This recipe is for ricotta filled cannoli and in our research I've learned that the best ricotta to use is dry and fresh. Also if you can get ricotta made from sheep or goats milk, all the better. You might have better luck finding this type of ricotta at a farmers market. So we decided to try adding a couple ounces of creamy goat cheese to the ricotta. The goat cheese is completely optional. If you want to try it but are nervous about disliking the flavor/texture, start with a little goat cheese and do frequent taste tests.
Taste testing during the final stage of cannoli filling making is important, do it every time you add an ingredient or increase the amount of an ingredient.
The reason we chose to make this Instructable a dip was because we feel cannoli filling goes a bit further during a party or meal when you dip, rather than when you fill a tube. You also have to eat a filled cannoli faster to keep it from going soft.
For the dippers, we decided to make a play on Mike's Pastry's Florentine Cannoli shell. Mike's Pastry, one of the more popular cannoli spots in Boston's North End has this amazing Florentine Cannoli. It's extremely tasty but also twice the price of Mike's standard cannoli. From what we can tell, the "Florentine" part is the shell as the filling doesn't seem to differ from their usual ricotta mixture. The Florentine shell is darker, looks to have honey and nuts mixed in. We also didn't want to deal with the mess and hassle of frying shells, so we decided to go with a lace cookie type recipe that, when still warm, can be shaped into a cannoli shell if wanted. Otherwise, it works well as a dipper with no additional modifications.
You can also use premade shells, baked pie dough pieces, fruit, pretzels, baked pita chips and more!
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Step 1: Ingredients
16oz Whole Milk Ricotta (sheep or goat milk ricotta is supposed to be the best)
1-3oz Creamy Goat Cheese (such as from Vermont Creamery) *optional
1/4 cup+ Powdered Sugar (start with a low amount of sugar, add more to taste** Caster sugar is also a good alt.)
1/2-1 tsp Amaretto (careful with this as it can make your dip more liquidy)
Mini Chocolate Chips *optional, add just before serving
Candied citron/orange peel *optional, add just before serving
1/2-1 cup finely diced pecans or almonds
1/4c brown sugar
Step 2: Cheese
Depending on the type of ricotta you get, you're going to have to let it drain as a dryer ricotta is said to be ideal for cannoli filling. There are a couple ways to drain your ricotta depending on your time frame.
If you want to make cannoli right away, use the towel method: Spread ricotta on a clean, folded towel. Fold the other side of the towel over the cheese and press gently. Let the cheese sit for 20 minutes and then flip it over and let it sit for another 20 minutes.
If you aren't in a hurry, you can wrap your ricotta in cheesecloth or a strainer and suspend it in a container so the excess liquid drains. Your ricotta will be ready to use in 24-48 hours. Keep refrigerated while draining.
Step 3: Shells
This is completely optional, you can use anything for your cannoli shell/dipper. You can also bake pieces of pie dough with cinnamon sugar on them to get a cannoli-shell like taste.
Preheat your oven to 350 and line a cookie sheet with parchment or greased tin foil.
Bring butter, brown sugar, and honey to a boil. Add amaretto and stir. Add nuts and flour, stir well and remove from heat.
The mixture is not going to be thick, it's not going to be normal cookie consistency. It'll be liquidy and that's okay.
The mixture will spread, so you don't need to put a lot on your cookie sheet. It's always better to start small and add more with the next batch if you want your shells bigger. I put about a tablespoon on my cookie sheet, spread far apart and then baked for 5-6 minutes.
Keep an eye on your shells as they bake, some ovens will cook faster than others.
Step 4: Shaping
This step is optional.
If you are going to make fillable shells, use a cannoli forms or some other tube like tool, carefully and somewhat quickly, wrap each cookie around the tube and let cool. If you only cook 3-5 cookies at a time, you'll be able to get through shaping the tubes with a lot less panic.
***Do not fill shells until you are ready to eat them!***
Step 5: Finishing the Filling
Once your ricotta is drained, transfer it to a bowl or your mixing stand (all we have is hand mixer) and add the goat cheese and mix for 1-2 minutes. Add the amaretto and some of the sugar and continue mixing. Stop after a minute or so and taste, add more sugar and/or amaretto if needed and then mix again. Beat until the mixture is fluffy and smooth.
Keep adding sugar until you reach the desired consistency and taste.
Step 6: Serve!
When you are satisfied with your cannoli dip, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.
Garnish with chocolate chips, powdered sugar, nuts, and/or candied citron.
This cannoli dip will make a great addition to any party!