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"We wanted to create a dessert that would excite kids but also please parents. These cannoli are the ideal approach." — Pizzeria Toro chef-owner Gray Brooks

Pizzeria Toro's subtle and graceful cannoli 

Pizzeria Toro's cannoli will cure your seasonal affective disorder.

Photo by David A. Ross

Pizzeria Toro's cannoli will cure your seasonal affective disorder.

Pizzeria Toro serves flawless pizza crust. This is to say that it has solved the chief human problem and become an incarnation of the Buddha. I pleaded for the crust recipe, but the sages upon Mount Meru said, "Cannoli is all you get." What godhead offers, I accept.

Toro's pizza and cannoli reflect the same logic. They are what Gray Brooks, chef-owner of the Durham trattoria, calls "inside-out conceptions."

"The outside—the shell—is the main vehicle and the focus, just as we want the crust to be the focus of the pizza," says Brooks. "The filling is secondary."

Toro's cannoli shell is petite, wine darkened, perfectly crisp, impressively pocked and gracefully fluted around the edges. Both its contours and connotations are cornucopian, evoking Sicilian carnivals and Italian-American street festivals. Had the creator of the Borghese Vase in the Louvre tried his hand at inventing the egg roll, it might have looked something like this.

The filling, conversely, is like the whitewashed wall of a cottage: chaste, simple and bright. Orange and lemon zest flavor a mixture of ricotta and mascarpone, but there is no glut of powdered sugar—or indeed any sugar—and the ricotta is for once allowed to yield its fragrance of milk and meadow. Relieved of sugar-delivery duties, these cannoli not only comport with—but compete with—the cleanly craft of Toro's appetizers, salads and pizzas.

"We wanted to create a dessert that would excite kids but also please parents," says Brooks. "These cannoli are the ideal approach."

As Toro's cannoli ruthlessly expose the quality of the cheese, finding a decent ricotta is imperative. I recommend Calabro brand (available at Whole Foods), purveyor of cheeses to that nearly centenarian coal-burning legend, Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana of New Haven, Conn. Whole-milk ricotta—as opposed to milky or chalky skimmed varieties—is obligatory.

"Worrying about the ricotta is like worrying about lard when it comes to fried chicken," says Brooks. "It's fried chicken. If you're going do it, do it."


Cannoli shells

Yields 48

260 g. (about 1 3/4 cups) King Arthur-brand all-purpose flour (see note)
25 g. (about 2 Tbsp.) sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
18 g. (about 1 1/4 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
3 fluid oz. (6 Tbsp.) dry Marsala wine
1 large egg + 1 egg white
Canola oil (for oiling the cannoli tubes and for deep frying)

Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter, the Marsala and the egg (not the additional egg white). In a stand mixer (fitted with the dough hook) or by hand, knead the dough until smooth and homogenous, about 7 minutes. The dough should be stiff and dry, but not sandy or crumbly (add trace amounts of Marsala to achieve the correct texture).

Wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate. Let the dough rest for 1 to 24 hours. Quarter the dough, rewrapping the unused portions and returning them to the refrigerator for later use. Lightly flour a counter or wooden cutting board. Using a pasta machine, roll the first dough quarter to a thickness of 1/16 inch (begin with the machine's widest setting and incrementally proceed to its lowest). Using a cannoli stamp or cookie cutter (see note), cut out 3 x 3 3/4-inch ovals. Lightly oil your full complement of 5 1/2 x 3/4-inch cannoli tubes (see note). Wrap the first oval around an oiled tube, gently stretching so the long sides slightly overlap. Brush the inner flap with egg white and seal the overlapping sides, pressing firmly to ensure a secure seam. Repeat with the remaining ovals. Fill a heavy, sturdy pot with canola oil to a depth of two inches. Heat the oil to 375 degrees. Fry the cannoli shells, two at a time, until dark golden brown, 1–2 minutes.

Cheese mixture

Fills 16 shells

12 oz. (about 1 1/3 cups) ricotta cheese
4 oz. (about 1/2 cup) mascarpone cheese
1 orange
1 lemon
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Wrap the ricotta in cheese cloth and wring out excess moisture (particularly moist ricotta may need to drain overnight in the refrigerator). Thoroughly rinse the orange and lemon in hot water (about 130 degrees) to melt and remove any wax. With a microplane grater, zest the whole orange and half the lemon. Mix the ricotta, mascarpone, orange zest, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Reserve in the refrigerator.

ASSEMBLY

Place the cheese mixture in a pastry bag or cookie press equipped with a star tip. Exerting gentle pressure, pipe the cheese mixture into both sides of the cannoli shell. To prevent rolling, spoon a small dollop of cheese onto the center of each serving plate and secure one or two cannoli on the mound. Finish with a drizzle of finest dark chocolate, melted and truffled with a dash of cream.

NOTES

To measure flour by volume is to play Russian roulette with your recipe. Scooped from a bag, 260 grams measures as little as 1 3/4 cups or as much as 2 1/4 cups, depending on how loosely the flour is packed. The half-cup differential significantly alters the consistency of the dough. According to Nathan Myhrvold, 260 grams should equal 2 1/4 cups, but I consistently wind up with 1 3/4 cups. Which are you going to trust: the mathematical deductions of a Microsoft billionaire with a Ph.D. or the scooping hand of your intrepid INDY Week reporter?

Cannoli making requires mail-order activity. I recommend Fat Daddio's 7-Piece Oval Nylon Cutter Set and Norpro's 3660 Stainless Steel Cannoli Form (which are 5 1/2 x 3/4 inches, not the advertised 5.8 x 1 inches), both available from Amazon.com. Filling the cannoli requires a pastry bag or other extruding device with tip. Those who'd rather handle a beehive than a pastry bag might try the Wilton Dessert Decorator Pro, also available from Amazon. Relatively cheap ($20–$75) hand-cranked pasta machines proliferate on Amazon.

INDY-conceived variations: 1) Replace the lemon zest with a dash of Grand Marnier. 2) Omit the orange zest and dress the finished cannoli with a sauce of honey and melted butter (ratio: 1/3 cup honey to 4 Tbsp. butter). A tablespoon of honey liquor would probably subtilize the sauce, but the dreary winter months left the cupboard bare and precluded the experiment.


This article appeared in print with the headline "The canon of cannoli."

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