The cannoli, one of Sicily's most well-known culinary contributions, has graced dessert tables since the Middle Ages. Created from a hollow deep-fried pastry filled with sweetened cream or fresh cheese, these pastries can be store bought, but are best served fresh from the pot. Metal tubes are the most common way to cook cannoli, with the pastry wrapped around the tube and then placed into hot oil, but alternatives can be used if tubes are not available.
Wood is the traditional Sicilian method of creating cannoli tubes. Using a thick piece of dowel or a broom handle, cut the wood to the desired length. Six to eight inches is about the length you'll want. Next, sand the wood with a fine grit sandpaper until it's smooth, then grease it with a food safe oil, such as canola oil. Then simply, proceed to make cannoli the same way you would, using the wood substitute. These wooden cylinders are re-usable.
If you're feeling particularly thrifty, you can re-purpose steel curtain rods to make cannoli tubes. First, ensure there is no coating on the metal and that the rods are thoroughly cleaned of all dirt and debris. Cut the rods into 6-8 inch pieces. Next, sand down the edges to ensure that they are smooth to avoid cuts. Wash thoroughly again and dry before use. These are also re-usable.
Scrunch up aluminum foil into small, golf ball-sized balls. Line up the balls into a 6-inch to 8-inch long line. Press them together to make the surface even. Wrap with additional aluminum foil, creating a long, unified piece of aluminum. Repeat the process to create as many cannoli tubes as required by the recipe. The tubes can be discarded after baking; however, to keep them, ensure that all crevices are cleaned after use, as pieces of pastry can easily get caught in grooves.
Tube- Free Alternatives
Deep fry individual pieces of dough flat on the pan. This achieves the same taste, but eliminates the need for the tube. Next, spoon the ricotta mixture on top of individual pieces, and place another flat piece of pastry on top -- like a hamburger. Although this looks different than a traditional cannoli, the taste is the identical. Another tube-free method is to use muffin tins as a scaffold for the dough. The pastry can be baked in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 to 10 minutes. This variation reduces fat content, and creates small-portioned servings. Again, the taste will be the same. You can also change up the recipe entirely; using the pastry as a base, fill it with a variety of creamy fillings to mix-and match desserts.