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cannolis!

before i moved down to dc, i spent 4 years at school in baltimore. people say a lot of disparaging things about baltimore (most of which are based entirely on episodes of the wire), and granted, it did take a while for me to warm up to the city, but looking back it was a really incredible place to live. one of the things i miss most about baltimore is the food.

there’s akbar, with its excellent all-you-can-eat lunch buffet that exposed me to all sorts of new indian dishes, and sterlings, a literal hole in the wall seafood joint near my old house that still stirs up hunger pangs when i think about their crab cake sandwiches. by the way, i lived just around the corner from charm city cakes, duff goldman’s bakery on the food network’s ace of cakes (we never got the nerve to actually go in).

one of my fondest food memories is of vaccaro’s [1], an italian pastry shop located in the inner harbor’s little italy neighborhood. a two-story sit-down bakery and cafe, it’s a great place to end a night if you’re in the mood for authentic gelati or tiramisu. if you want the most for your money though, go on a monday night, where $12.95 will get you ALL YOU CAN EAT AND DRINK (alcohol excluded)

the game wasn’t merely to see if you could eat $12.95 worth of desserts, coffees, smoothies and gelati (that could be achieved in about 15 minutes). the real fun came from seeing just how far we could go in the 3 hours they give you to order. my personal best was somewhere between $30 and $40, but i watched others approach $60 in eclairs, amaretti cookies, cheesecake, and yes, cannolis.

luckily vaccaro’s has a branch here in dc, although it’s just a stand in the union station food court. still, i can satisfy my cravings if need be.

but the only thing better than buying a fresh cannoli is making one of your own. and get this – it’s really not as hard as you think! most recipes i found for the cannoli filling included some kind of flavoring with the ricotta. after making a batch of orange-tinged filling, i made another batch with nothing but ricotta and a touch of confectioner’s sugar. i definitely preferred the more stripped down filling, but then again, i could probably just eat a tub of ricotta for dinner and be happy.

the hardest part of the whole process is getting the dough really thin, and this is where a pasta roller could come in handy. but i didn’t let that small snag keep me from enjoying more than one of these cannolis.

one last thing: i’m going to be running in a 5k on june 6 to benefit the susan g. komen breast cancer foundation [2]. i would be eternally humbled if you could be generous enough to sponsor me [2], even if it’s just a few pennies. every dollar really does count, so you can click here and hit the “donate to pete” buttonĀ  to donate [2] if you are so inclined. thank you!

cannolis
makes 16 servings.

shells
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 eggs plus 2 yolks
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup marsala
1 egg white, beaten
oil, for frying

filling
1 lb whole milk ricotta, drained
3 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1/4 lemon, juiced (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
2 tsp orange rind, grated (optional)
mini chocolate chips (optional)

1. make the shells: place the flour on a work surface and make a well in the center. place eggs, yolks, butter and marsala in the well and combine with a fork. gradually incorporate the flour, little by little. knead the dough until smooth, about 10 minutes. let rest, covered with a damp cloth, about 30 minutes in the refrigerator. roll the dough very thin and cut into 4-inch circles (i used a tupperware lid).

2. loosely wrap the dough circles around the cannoli tubes and seal the overlap with beaten egg white. deep fry at 325F until golden brown. remove from oil and carefully slide off the tubes. cool on a wire rack.

3. for the filling, drain the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined colander in the refrigerator for at least an hour (overnight works best). whip in the confectioner’s sugar with a fork. just adding sugar keeps the ricotta flavor very pure, but for a more varied flavor, add the lemon juice, vanilla and orange rind.

4. in a pasty bag (or a sandwich bag with the corner snipped), pipe the filling into the shells just before serving. sprinkle with chocolate chips and dust with confectioner’s sugar.