A cannolo (did you know that's the singular, and cannoli is plural? That's fairly new info to me) is a thing of beauty. But really, is fried and filled the only way to enjoy these Italian treats?
While some are of the mentality that "you shouldn't mess with a classic", I disagree. How on earth will you ever make new culinary discoveries if you're too scared to experiment in the kitchen?
This is all to say that recently, when developing a delicious olive oil cannoli recipe for Colavita, I went through many batches of the little tube-like treats, and along the way I found myself thinking "what if I baked the components as mini custard pies?".
Here's what I did.
Basically, I started out the normal way. I made a batch of cannoli shell dough, and I made a batch of cannoli cream.
But then, instead of frying and rolling the shells into tubes, I simply pressed them into cupcake liners, so that they looked like mini pie crusts.
Then I filled each shell with cannoli cream.
Then I baked them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.
And here's how they came out.
They looked absolutely beautiful.
Taste-wise, they provided an interesting experience. It really brought my attention to the fact that the frying is really a vital part of the cannoli experience. Because while these were quite pleasurable as little cheesecake-like tartlets, I would not have taken a bite and said "this is cannoli-flavored!".
The shells were a tad...sturdy. I think that while they require a certain structure to be fried, in baked form they were a bit on the dry side. Not terrible, but not "wow" worthy, and perhaps a little bland. Like I said - that frying in oil goes a long way, flavor and texture-wise.
I'm delighted to report, though: the filling was absolutely gorgeous. Cannoli cream, when baked, really is a thing of beauty. It formed a pleasant little golden crust on the top, and it was almost like eating the center out of one of those cream cheese muffins (really? come on. Cake.) they sell at Starbucks and such. Good stuff.
You know what helped with the slightly dry crust issue, too? A nice dousing with the way-more-flavorful-than-it-sounds water ganache I have become addicted to.
Cannoli baked as mini pies? Great idea, but the crust needs adapting. For better results, I'd use the regular cannoli cream, but use a classic pie crust recipe for the shells instead.
OK. So, to review, in case you want to give this a try:
How I did this:
I prepared the cannoli shells per this recipe, but did not fry them.
Instead of frying them, I pressed them into cupcake liners. I didn't use the entire batch to bake, but if I had, it would have yielded about 18 pies.
I then filled each shell with cannoli cream (from the same recipe).
I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F, and when it was preheated, I baked the pies until golden - about 15 minutes. And then I topped them with ganache, because, why not? Well, let me tell you, I couldn't resist digging in while they were still warm like that (though the rest did "set" more once cooled).