‘Leave the gun, don’t forget the cannoli.’ So the classic saying goes from the Godfather Part 1 – epitomising the significance this classic dessert has in the Sicilian way of life. A simple but elegant sweet made from tube-shaped fried pastry shell and filled with sweetened Ricotta or Mascarpone, cannoli was historically prepared as a celebratory treat during Carnevale season, possibly to encourage fertility, but is now eaten year-round in Italy and the United States.
London, of late, has seen a slew of super calorific American-inspired treats take over the sweets landscape. From the cupcake to the cronut, and the duffin to the townie, as good as they are, Fork Talk feels like it might just be time for a slice of humble pie. Or, humble cannoli.
Although they have been in Europe for hundreds of years, you are still more likely to see a cronut in central London than a cannoli – so we have shortlisted a few of our favourite places to pick up this classic Italian dessert, as well as including a recipe of our own.
Bespoke Menu Design is lucky enough to work with a Sicilian chef, Giuseppe, who was willing to share his mother’s cannoli recipe and even make us a batch.
Giueseppe’s family’s crispy fried pastry is made with a real cocktail of ingredients: flour, sugar, lardo, honey, white wine, egg yolk and espresso coffee (or cocoa, if you prefer), and the filling, with Ricotta (sheeps’ milk, if you can get it), icing sugar, vanilla essence and chunks of plain chocolate. After the fried pastry shells have been filled, it is traditional to finish with nuts and candied fruits, and Giuseppe’s was no exception, so was laced with ground pistachio and candied orange peel and sprinkled with more icing sugar.
Served cold, it was an indulgent and fresh-tasting traditional treat that was made with love. Best enjoyed in the morning with an espresso or two or in the afternoon with a glass of Marsala wine.
Next, we tried a traditional variation on the cannoli – the cannoncini – a petite, cannoli-shaped puff pastry shell that is glazed with coarse sugar and filled with crème patissiere. A lovely introduction to the world of the cannoli, we enjoyed these in Princi on Wardour Street, where they shared with us that the cannoncini is their best-seller.
Selling over 4,000 cannoncinis per week, general manager Mariano Camerlingo attributes their success to the simplicity and traditional quality of the treat. ‘We have plenty of regulars, Italians,’ he says, ‘and it’s like eating bread to them.’ Plus, at only a few centimeters in width, it is an easily justifiable indulgence.
If you consider yourself a Soho-body, then our next choice should be an obvious one. Establishing its home in the heart of Soho in 1961, i Camisa is the Italian’s Italian deli that has truly stood the test of time.
With a vintage i Camisa bicycle outside the shop front, the small deli is filled with everything an Italian away from home would miss (or a Londoner with a taste for the Med): collections of olive oils, fresh pastas, antipasti, tomato sauces, cheeses and salami.
And cannoli. Due to their short shelf life (cannoli, on average, keep for 48 hours before the pastry begins to become soggy) i Camisa receives a fresh delivery from their Sicilian supplier in London each morning. Very similar to Giuseppe’s cannoli, i Camisa serves it classically, with sweet Ricotta, ground pistachio and plain chocolate.
In London, you are most likely to see cannoli in this fashion, but in Italy, they can be flavoured with orange, cinnamon, Marsala wine or rosewater, and in the US, they are often highly modernised and flavoured with fillings such as pumpkin pie and peanut butter.
Maybe it is the fried pastry, but it feels like there is a sense of occasion when tucking into a cannoli. It also feels as if you are being let in on a nation’s secret – as the rest of town remains fixated on the next super donut, the Italians keep their cool with the cannoli.