Operation: Holy Cannoli!

I was terrified–for a number of reasons.

1. The last time I tried to fry anything at home stovetop, Dan and I may or may not have experienced a small grease fire on one of my burners.

2. On the back of the Crisco packets, the warning labels were very clear to point out that the Crisco could catch fire if it got too hot. And let me be clear, this is not if the Crisco bubbles over the side of the pot and makes contact with the burner – this is IN THE POT ITSELF. You best believe I put the puppy in the backyard and the fire extinguisher a couple feet away.

3. The last time I tried to make dough was for a pie for my mom’s birthday a number of years ago. I wound up in the ER that day–albeit, it was due to the knee surgery I’d had about a week prior, not the dough-making. But, you know, association with past experiences…

4. I really wanted to surprise my boyfriend with homemade cannoli for his birthday–and I hadn’t devised a Plan B in case Operation Holy Cannoli went terribly wrong.

Now, those of you who know me personally are probably thinking, But you’re the cupcake queen, and you cook, too. I’ve always assumed you’re a whiz in the kitchen.

Okay, maybe it’s a little egotistical of me to think you think that…

The fact of the matter is batter doesn’t bite back. It may not turn out as planned, but you can toss it without incurring third degree burns or double-checking your homeowners insurance policy for coverage.

Also, I’m a cannoli-making virgin. I will never claim to be a pastry goddess (although I guess I should never say never, right?) and I have mad respect for pastry chefs. Some of the toughest stuff to make in my book.

But when all is said and done, my German pride was up for the challenge. And being twitterpated makes people do crazy things. I turned on my James Morrison Pandora station, got out a pumpkin ale, and readied myself to romance my kitchen.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that cannoli recipes call for white wine. This is why I love Italians. Flickr photo by “theuptownlife.”

The first recipe I tried for the dough was a terrible flop. I couldn’t work the dough to the right consistency. It was flaky and crumbly, despite the copious amounts of wine I added to the mixture, a little at a time per the instructions. Food.com, I was not amused.

When a quarter of the bottle wound up in my bowl and it still wasn’t working, I took a swig of chardonnay and decided to try the recipe printed on the back of my cannoli tube packages instead.

Eureka! The differences in the recipes were subtle, but the second recipe was so much easier to execute and made more sense to me in terms of the food science involved. I wound up with a nice ball of dough. So far, so good.

As I let the dough chill, I prepared for frying. I probably need to invest in a proper pot for this sort of thing, because my selection was limited. I had a deep pot, but the surface area was rather large and I was afraid I would use an entire family-sized tub of Crisco to get the melted shortening deep enough for frying. The thought of that made me gain about 10 pounds.

Option B was the kind of pot I prepare boxed mac and cheese in. I went with that one even though it wasn’t especially deep…but not before consulting a YouTube video of Mario Batali giving cannoli shell frying instructions. Mario helped to calm my nerves.

I did some more online research and determined that as long as I had two inches free above my frying liquid and I only heated the Crisco over medium heat, I should be good.

I melted the Crisco, rolled out the dough, cut it with margarita glasses, and egg-washed the spot where the dough came together around the tubes.

When I dropped the first two cannoli in, I held my breath…and then let it out as I watched the dough expand and turn a beautiful golden brown. The shortening only bubbled around the shells and didn’t threaten to bubble over the side of my pot.

Removing the guinea pig shells, I started to get excited. They looked good, nothing was smoking, and I wasn’t having any heart palpitations.

I fried 12 shells that night, each one even better looking than the one before. My fear turned into confidence as Mr. Morrison sang about love and my kitchen took on the aroma of fried dough.

The next night, I made the filling, complete with maraschino cherries and mini chocolate chips. To maintain the crispy/creamy contrast that really makes cannoli special, I didn’t fill the shells until just before I served them up to my boyfriend and some of his friends who celebrated with us.

And the looks on their faces as they dug in made all of the fear and anticipation worth it. Because that’s what matters–creating a food experience for others, creating a memory or a moment. It’s why “foodies” love food. It’s the senses going crazy, the association with who, what, why, where, how, and when, a flavor coming alive.

So, in terms of Operation Holy Cannoli–veni, vidi, vici.

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