History of Cannolis

Cannolis are one of the most beloved Sicilian desserts. They are usually filled with ricotta, or sometimes mascarpone cheese, and accented with chocolate, candied citrus and pistachios.

Many myths surround the creation of this tasty treat. Some suggest that it came right after the end of Arab domination in Sicily, when former concubines left their harems for convents and started new lives with religion.

Brunetti Oro are a local Italian Pasticceria in Melbourne, Austalia who create and sell a variety of Cannoli flavours to locals.

Origins

The origins of this Sicilian confection are steeped in legend and myth. Many believe that it was first made by concubines of an Arab emir who were said to have created the dessert in its phallic shape to honor their master’s sexual potency. It is thought that the women used a recipe that was based on an ancient Arab dessert called Kalt El Nissa (Castle of the Women), which consisted of a farinaceous tube filled with ricotta and honey-cream.

After the end of the Arab domination, it is believed that some of the harem members converted to Christianity and moved to convents where they continued making their favorite dishes. It is also believed that they modified the recipes and incorporated ingredients such as milk and butter to create the modern cannoli.

As time went by, the cannoli became a beloved treat during Carnevale, the Sicilian celebration that takes place before Lent. Its popularity grew throughout Italy and eventually spread to the United States with the influx of millions of Sicilian immigrants beginning in the 1880s.

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Ingredients

The fried pastry dough that makes up the shells of cannoli are made with flour, sugar, shortening and a few other ingredients. They are then rolled into ovals and fried to produce the bubbled texture that gives them their unique shape.

The filling is made from ricotta cheese or mascarpone, though it can be filled with many other ingredients as well. Chocolate, pistachios, candied citrus, and rose water are some popular choices. Depending on how sweet or tart you like your cannoli, the filling can also be flavored with different types of liqueur.

The name cannoli is believed to come from the Sicilian word for a kind of cane reed, which was used to create the cylindrical shape of the dessert. The cannoli became associated with Sicily’s carnival season, which occurs right before Lent begins. It is also thought that they were created as a fertility symbol. Italian immigrants brought cannoli to America in the early 1900s, but they changed the recipe, replacing sheep’s milk ricotta with mascarpone, because that ingredient was more readily available in the United States.

Techniques

While the filling’s ingredients – including sweetened ricotta, mascarpone and goat cheese – are fairly constant across cannoli recipes, the shell dough has many variations. The baker can choose to roll the pastry into ovals, circles or rectangles and to add a variety of ingredients that flavor the dough itself.

The traditional cannoli shell is made of fried cylinders of fried dough called scorza, or farcitura, and it is wrapped around a cannoli mold. Until recently, chefs used river reeds to make these tubes, but for hygiene reasons you’ll now find that the pasta is baked in metal cylinders instead.

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The origins of cannoli are murky, but they were likely developed during the time when Sicily was under Arabic control and that the Arabs introduced the flavors of their homeland to the region. Regardless of their origin, cannoli became associated with the Carnival season (which occurs before Lent) as a fertility symbol. Eventually, they were enjoyed year round.

Variations

Cannoli are little tube-shaped shells of deep-fried pastry dough filled with sweet cream. They taste almost like a slice of heaven, and are considered one of Italy’s finest desserts.

Historians believe that cannoli were created in the Palermo and Messina areas of Sicily around 1000 AD, when the island was ruled by Arabs. Some theories hold that they were invented by concubines who had been released from their harem and forced to find jobs and live on their own. Others believe that the cannoli was created by nuns who worked at a convent near Caltanissetta.

The filling can be whatever you want it to be — the basic ingredients are ricotta cheese, confectioners’ sugar (which usually contains a bit of cornstarch to prevent clumping), vanilla extract, and some kind of powdered chocolate or cocoa. You can also add candied fruit such as lemon, orange or citron peel or pistachios. You can also dip the ends of the shells in melted chocolate, but this is less traditional.

These can be created individually, or stacked together to create a cannoli tower. With Cannoli towers, you have the ability to mix and match flavours as well as tailor the serving size to the event.

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