Thursday, July 21, 2011

Holy Cannoli Napoleon Dynamite!

I've been dying to make cannoli, partly because they're on  my recipe wishlist and partly because Festa is this weekend. Now I know I've said that I don't like recipe shortcuts, but when you're trying to use up what's in the refrigerator, a shortcut or two is sometimes necessary. And when I looked at the 900 leftover won ton wrappers I had sitting in the fridge from my won ton experiment, I couldn't think of a better use than shortcut cannoli.

I LOVE cannoli, probably because I grew up with them. My grandmother would make them on special occasions, and the whole family would go nuts. I've dreamed of those cannoli for years, but I haven't attempted them because I don't have one very important tool ... my grandmother's broomstick!

You think I'm joking, but I'm not. Cannoli require a tube, used to mold the pastry shell while frying. You can buy cannoli tubes, but my grandmother didn't. Instead, my grandpa sawed off the end of an old broomstick, sanded it down, and cut custom tubes for her. I believe those sticks live with my uncle now, but I need to find a way to bring them to Milwaukee. After all, who's the one with a cooking blog??

I had the bright idea (after a couple glasses of wine) to attempt cannoli without the tubes, simply by holding them with tongs. That didn't go so well. The won ton wrappers were so delicate that dipping them into the hot oil immediately caused them to shift and float. Luckily, quick-thinker that I am, I realized I could just drop the won ton wrappers into the oil, use the tongs to flip them, and end up with sheets of fried "pastry." And you know what uses sheets of pastry ... napoleons! And so my cannoli-napoleon fusion was born.

If you're interested in a bit of history, you might like to know the origin of these two delicious desserts. Cannoli are of Sicilian origin (like me!) and the word literally means "little tubes." You'll often hear them referred to as "cannolis," but being the hobby linguist that I am, I know that's incorrect. The singular form is "cannolo."

The napoleon, surprisingly enough, has no connection to Napoleon the Italian Emperor (or Dynamite, for that matter). Rather, this pastry is of French origin and is called mille-feuille, meaning "thousand leaves." The traditional mille-feuille typically consists of three layers of puff pastry and two layers of pastry cream, topped with icing that is combed to create the pretty design on top. There's also an Italian version of napoleon (still no relation to the emperor), which often includes layers of sponge cake.

When I fused cannoli with napoleon, I ended up with this:

Cannoli Napoleon
3/4 cup ricotta
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon chocolate, grated or shaved
6 won ton wrappers
Oil for frying
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, sugar, vanilla, and chocolate. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Heat oil (about 1 inch) in a small saucepan. (Remember that when small bubbles form around the handle of a wooden spoon, your oil is ready for frying.) Drop one won ton wrapper in oil and fry for 20 to 30 seconds, turning once. Using tongs, remove wrapper to paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining wrappers.

Place one fried won ton on a plate, top with a heaping tablespoon of ricotta filling, top with another won ton, more ricotta, and a final won ton. If you'd like, drop a dollop of ricotta on top. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve.

So it's not a cannolo and it's not quite a napoleon. But it is delicious! I was worried that the won ton wrappers, intended for egg rolls and whatnot, wouldn't be sweet enough for dessert. But luckily the creamy, sweet ricotta filling solved that problem. I'll definitely be having a cannolo at Festa tomorrow night ... but I can't imagine that it will be that much better than this!


  1. That looks so, so good. I don't have cannoli nearly enough. But lets face it, unless it's daily, it's always too rare for fried dough and cheese, am I right?

    Haha, I swear every Euro immigrant has some highly specialized cooking/baking tool made from a commandeered household item.. I had to laugh when I read about the broom handle.. my mom has a special glass for pierogi dough. I think it's from a garage sale about 30 years ago. lol!

  2. You have no idea how much I want those broom handles! It would make my cannoli making so much easier!