Making the perfect cannoli is an art. It requires much expertise, experience and practice. From the components (filling, shell and decorations) to the assembly process (making the cream, frying the shell and piping the cream into the shell), everything must be executed just right so the shell cracks upon first bite and the ricotta filling explodes in your mouth.
Cannoli originated in Sicily and are traditionally composed of a fried tube-shaped pastry dusted with powdered sugar and piped with a ricotta cream filling. Typically the filling is mixed with miniature chocolate chips, but other variations include chopped or sliced nuts (almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts) and candied fruit. Sometimes the filling is seasoned with a citrus zest or extract for a tart and tangy twist.
Making this classic Italian dessert seems simple, as it only has a few components, but its simplicity allows bakers to add their own signature touch, creating a variety of interpretations. But, which one is the best? In this food fight, we have pitted the cannoli from Ciao Bello, D'Amico's Italian Market Cafe, Drew's Pastry Place and Fellini Caffe against each other. Here's how they ranked.
4. Fellini Caffe ($1.90) Fellini Caffe offers a variety of cannoli ranging from chocolate and hazelnut to pistachio and traditional, which in comparison to each of its competitors in this food fight, is one of the most simple renditions. No gimmicks or Americanized additions to the ricotta filling, just a candied cherry stuck on one end. The shell is clearly much darker than the others, a sign that it was fried for a longer period of time; it takes a bit more force to break through to the small amount of ricotta cream filling. And that's a shame because it is an excellent blend of sugar and ricotta.
3. D'Amico's Italian Market Cafe ($4.50) Obviously D'Amico's cannolo greatly differs from the rest of the bunch. The filling features not only chocolate chips, but also sliced almonds, citron (diced citrus fruit) and almond extract. The cream extrudes from the sides like snowballs, and must be eaten with a fork and knife. The cinnamon shell adds another sweet element that makes this cannolo over the top. You only need a few bites to satisfy your sweet tooth, and I recommend starting from the middle to ensure each piece contains fried shell and filling. The extra helping of frosting-like cream is overly sweet and overly indulgent.
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2. Drew's Pastry Place ($3.50) Pastry chef and owner Drew Rogers' cannoli filling is a secret. His fluffy, smooth ricotta mixture looks like whipped cream after it is piped into the tender, crunchy pastry shell. As you bite into the cannolo, the filling oozes out the opposite side -- you might need a napkin or two. It's a classic Sicilian dessert that makes you forget you're still in Texas. I just wish the filling were thicker so it could hold up better in the shell. But, as far as flavor goes, Rogers hits the mark.
1. Ciao Bello ($9.95) Ciao Bello's cannoli are more expensive, but each one is simply amazing. The ricotta cream is dense and reminds me of overly-whipped Toll House chocolate chip cookie dough, and it holds up nicely in the perfectly fried shell. The portions of cream extending from the sides invite you to swipe your finger through for a quick taste before diving in to this treat. These cannoli are quite traditional in appearance, but the thick filling studded with chocolate chips puts them above the rest.