One of Sicily's most well-known culinary contributions, cannoli has graced dessert tables since the Middle Ages. Created from a hollow deep-fried pastry filled with sweetened cream or fresh cheese, the pastries can be store bought, but are best served fresh from the pot. While metal tubes are the most common way to cook cannoli, with the pastry wrapped around the tube and then placed into hot oil, other alternatives can be used if the tubes are not available.
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Cut to the desired length a thick piece of dowel or broom handle. This is the traditional Sicilian method of creating cannoli tubes. Sand the wood with a fine grit sandpaper until it's smooth, then oil it with a food safe oil, such as canola oil. Six to eight inches is the typical length of the traditional shapes. The wood absorbs the oil and will become a dark, rich brown color; the wood can be used repeatedly in the cannoli-making process.
Steel Curtain Rods
Use steel curtain rods or plain metal dowling in lieu of metal tubes. Ensure that there is no coating on the metal and that the rods are thoroughly cleaned of all dirt and debris. Cut the rods into 6-inch-long lengths. Sand down the edges to ensure that they are smooth and will not cut, and so pieces will not fall into the pastry. Wash thoroughly again and dry before use.
Scrunch up aluminum foil into small, golf ball-sized balls. Line them up into a 6-inch to 8-inch long line. Press them together to make the surface more even and less lumpy. Wrap with additional aluminum foil, creating a long aluminum piece. 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.
Deep fry the individual pieces of dough in flat forms. This still provides the flavor of the cannoli, but does not necessitate the use of a tube. Spoon the ricotta mixture on top of individual pieces and stack them on top of each other with a drizzle of fruit compote or a sprinkle of pistachios for a dessert that may look different from traditional cannoli, but tastes the same. The cannoli can also be baked in muffin tins at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 to 10 minutes, reducing the fat content and creating small portioned cups that taste similar to cannoli and can contain any filling.