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Feb 16, 2010 06:15 PM

Seeking the REAL "Brooklyn Style" Cannoli Recipe

I have a serious Cannoli recipe problem, which I've been unable to resolve for several years. As many cannoli-philes have probably figured out, none of the recipes posted online or on this forum actually produce what I would now call the "Brooklyn style" cannoli, which is the cannoli of my youth.

I am reaching out to the Chowhounders out there who have worked in a bakery to share their secrets, because at this point, I am convinced that the recipe or secret to producing the cannoli I am looking for (and the cannoli style most beloved by most new yorkers) is simply not in the public domain.

What do I mean by Brooklyn style cannoli? First, let's get it straight - after trying to track down the "brooklyn style" cannoli recipe for over 10 years, I have noticed that in the US, there are several cannoli styles present. In Boston, most cannoli are just ricotta and sugar (think Fortunato brothers or Rocco's). Many people love this style, and to them, this IS cannoli. However, that's not what I'm looking for. If you get a cannoli in most spots in Manhattan, they will at least use impastata, which is a higher fat, low moisture version of ricotta, and candied citron. There is also other variants, such as Villabate's in Brooklyn, which seems to use some sort of orange or other liquer base (I only tried it once, not my thing, though they use a great ricotta), but it is a variation you won't find often. Occasionally, you will also find a cannoli that uses cinnamon oil, which is one of the key "secret" ingredients often listed on boards.

However, if you have ever been to a cannoli spot like Court Street Pastry, Alba's (now Luigi's in Staten Island), Cristoforo Colombo or even Veniero's, you probably have found out that absolutely no cannoli recipe out there can get you the flavor of these bakeries (which I am calling "Brooklyn" style, although you can find similar cannoli on Staten Island, parts of New Jersey, and other random areas). It is a hard flavor to describe, which definitely uses cinnamon oil or some other cinnamon source and of course, citron, but there is another flavor there that I've been unable to replicate using any of the recipes online (and I don't think it's Sheep's Milk Ricotta, which I've obtained from several sources on different occasions, with no success).

At first, I thought it might be some sort of anise extract, and perhaps that is part of the "secret", as that at least seems to get me part of the way. At times, I've thought that perhaps I am limited in my selection of ricotta, or that perhaps they do something to the cheese to create more flavor (though I don't think most of these places add mascarpone). Recently, I visited a pastry place in Philadelphia called Potito's that has a very interesting filling, and they informed me that they actually make their own ricotta - perhaps that is part of the secret (although I note theirs does not use cinnamon oil)?

Either way, despite my efforts to use every possible combination of the following: anise extract, cinnamon oil, sambucca, rose water, orange flower water, strega, maraschino liquer, rum, cacao liquer, Almond extract/Amaretto, etc, my cannoli filling still tastes absolutely nothing like these "brooklyn style" cannoli places.

If anyone has any advice, I would incredibly appreciate it. I have tried every variation of every recipe on the internet and am using high quality impastata and have tried maybe a dozen different cinnamon oils at this point.

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  1. Have you tried Gino's Pastry Shop's cannoli recipe from The Arthur Avenue Cookbook?
    Also, do you drain you ricotta overnight to thicken it

    1. I use Scala Brand "Old Fashioned" ricotta (made by Aiello) but I've seen another brand packed in an unusual type container (supposedly how all ricotta used to be packed before Pollyo), unfortunately I can't remember the name. I think this might be it This type of ricotta is very thick, you don't have to do anything to it. You will probably eat some right out of the container as it tastes so good. I use it for everything, couldn't bear to use a grocery store brand anymore. Besides all the flavorings, I think a good quality cheese would be the most important ingredient in a cannoli filling.

      I only made cannoli once, and the smoke from frying the shells convinced me to just buy them in the future.

      2 Replies
      1. re: coll

        I use either drained Hand-Dipped Calabro Cheese or Impastata right now, but like I said, no results. I have also seen the "arthur avenue cookbook" recipe. Unfortunately, it is woefully inadequate (I don't even think it makes any sense - a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon oil?! That would be radioactive! It also does not include Citron).

        I think there is an ingredient I am missing, or a special technique that is not listed on internet recipes. Again, I call on all bakers who've worked in a shop making such cannoli to share their secrets.

        1. re: vtheory

          I worked at a bakery that made great cannoli, but the owner never passed on his secrets, except to the head baker. Good luck to you, maybe someone will be more generous.

      2. My father's original recipe for casateddi, a Sicilian pastry that someone I know once called a "cannoli ravioli," called for something called ricottoni, which, if you know your Italian suffixes, means "big ricotta." Strangely, no one I have ever asked has ever had ricottoni, though if my father wrote it on the recipe, I am sure that it did exist. He grew up in Brooklyn, by the way. I have made cannoli cream using the ricotta from the store on end of Arthur Avenue. It is so think that they actually cut it with a knife.

        1. I know what you mean about the elusive taste you are trying to find. I've never made a cannoli filling that comes near that taste. Some things are just better left to the pros and not made at home. That's what I have decided about cannoli. (though I'd love to know the answer to the elusive flavor)

          4 Replies
          1. re: ttoommyy

            I wish leaving cannoli making to the pros were an option. Living in a city where there are no good cannoli to be found, I do not have the luxury of leaving it to the pros. Necessity is the mother of invention and I am very much hoping that someone can provide a useful lead.

            I have spent over 10 years trying to perfect the recipe and my cannoli cream still tastes very little like what you find in these Brooklyn bakeries. With only a handful of places that actually make this style of cannoli, surely someone must share the recipe so that when these stores are gone, we can still enjoy their delicacies. It doesn't seem to make any sense - I don't know of any other pastry that has so many different recipes, none of which taste like the most famous versions available.

            By the way, roxlet, Ricottone is a variant of Ricotta, though I don't think it's the one used by these bakeries. They definitely use a type of impastata, although it's unclear whether they have access to a special batch or make their own a special way, like Potito's. I tried several different suppliers of Impastata when I lived in NY and found most of them tasted fairly similar. I currently have no reason to believe that this is the problem in my search.

            1. re: vtheory

              Food mysteries such as this one intrigue me. Sadly, I've never had a "Brookyln" cannoli so I can't help you based on flavour. I did however find an old (1986) article that stated that, rather than citron, true Sicilian cannoli use zucca, or preserved watermelon rind. I've also seen recipes that call for fresh cantelope. More frequently, I see candied squash (or zucatta) used. Could one of these melons/squashes be your elusive ingredient?
              Here is a link to that article:
              Some recipes call for blending the ricotta, sugar, and oils and letting the mixture sit overnight. This melding time could really impact the final flavour. Many traditional recipes call for passing the ricotta through a seive (or silk, if you want to be really traditional!) to get a very creamy texture. Have you tried this step?
              Also, is your impastata/ricotta from cow's or sheep's milk (the latter being highly preferable)?

              1. re: vtheory

                I have not found the texture of the New York style filling. I am using a combination of ricotta and whipped cream, with powdered sugar, mini semi-sweet chip, and orange peel. I am living in Eastern Washington State, and there are no bakeries here. My daughter asked me to make cannoli for her 16th birthday, so I was here looking for shell recipes! Try whipped cream with ricotta (blended, and re-chilled). Let me know what you think. I miss NY food!!! :)

                1. re: awbc

                  The best filling I've had used whipped cream plus ricotta, sugar, and finely-diced candied fruit. Made long ago by a very sweet Italian girl.

            2. vtheory - Perhaps Sambucca Romano is that "secret ingredient"? There's an older post here discussing Brooklyn cannoli: When you do manage to solve the mystery please report back :)