Cannoli can be such a love-hate dessert.
I love it because I have an affinity for ricotta cheese, one of the primary ingredients in the traditional Italian dessert.
Others hate it because of … the ricotta.
When I started telling friends I was touring local bakeries in search of cannoli, I was met with binary reactions about the dessert that is a crisp cookie shell shaped like a tube filled with a mildly sweetened ricotta.
One friend waxed about her love of ricotta and all its uses. Like cream cheese, she said, it has the ability to meld well with savory or sweet flavors.
Another friend responded with “ewww.” To him, ricotta is just a grainy-textured nuisance.
That texture doesn’t bother me, but I understand it might bother you.
The good news is that I found cannoli made with both ricotta-based fillings and other kinds of sweet, custardy and even whipped fillings.
By my count, four take-out bakeries stock ready-made cannoli in their cases. I was in search of take-out bakeries where I could pick up a cannoli quickly whenever the mood struck. Because sometimes the need to cram cannoli in one’s mouth is just that urgent.
DOLCE SI SICILIAN BAKERY AND CAFE
Location: 5005 Main St., Tacoma; 253-292-0172, dolcesi.com.
Find: Three kinds of cannoli, $2.75 small, $4.75 large.
Those in search of broad cannoli choices, head straight toward the Ruston waterfront.
Dolce Si, the Sicilian bakery that opened at the Point Ruston development in November 2015 has an ever-changing bakery case with three choices of cannoli in two sizes.
Elisabetta O’Shea, who owns the cafe and bakery with husband Steve, said her offerings reflect the cannoli she grew up eating in her native Sicily, where she and Steve met while he was stationed in Italy with the Navy.
They moved to the United States in 2003 and now live in Graham.
O’Shea said she makes 50-60 cannoli every day, but, “I like to keep it fresh, so when we run out, I don’t make any more.” Occasionally, that translates into one flavor or another running low, or out.
The shelf life of cannoli is short because of its construction. The crisp cookie gets soggy when moisture from the filling seeps into the shell.
O’Shea said her secret to preventing the sogginess is to hold the cannoli at a very cold temperature. Once the filling warms, she said, it softens, becomes watery and expresses moisture. That means it should be eaten straight out of the case or kept very cold until time to eat it.
She said cannoli is a daily offering, but it’s not as popular as her tiramisu, cheesecake or other Italian pastries. She said she finds those who have traveled Europe and are accustomed to less sweet desserts typically gravitate to her cannoli.
In the display case:
Ricotta-pistachio: A lightly crunchy cookie base was filled with sweetened ricotta flavored with candied orange zest. The texture favored creamy more than gritty. This was among the best on the tour. The edges of the cannoli were dipped in crushed pistachios.
Chocolate cream: The filling in this cannoli tasted something like chocolate pot de creme: a satiny-textured, creamy filling with a deep chocolate wallop. The edges were dipped in crushed hazelnuts.
Vanilla custard: The filling was a sturdy textured eggy custard. Crushed nuts also ringed the edges.
Location: 2602 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1327, legendarydoughnuts.com.
Other locations: Frederickson, Lake Tapps, Federal Way, Covington.
Find: Chocolate-dipped cookies shells (one with peanuts) with sweetened ricotta. $3.99.
“I love cannoli, and it’s hard to find with the traditional filling,” said Legendary Doughnuts co-owner Shannon Patten. “We’ve had lots of requests from customers. For years, we thought, there’s no way we can do it. We have no refrigerated case (to store them).”
Without a refrigerated case keeping the filling cold-and-tight, she worried pre-filled cannoli would become soggy.
“Then I had a customer come to me and ask … ‘Why don’t you pipe them to order?’ ”
That was just the solution Patten needed. While every bakery on this tour sold pre-filled cannoli, the Legendary Doughnuts cannoli were filled-to-order from a giant bag of ricotta filling.
The result was a cookie shell that stayed crunchier, with a light snap that yielded to a softer pastry texture inside, with filling that stayed tight and creamy. For those who appreciate the dichotomy of crispy-creamy in a cannoli, this one’s for you.
Patten’s filling falls in line with the cannoli she enjoyed eating in Italy — less sweet, with few ingredients interfering with the texture and flavor of ricotta. Her filling is sweetened with powdered sugar and flavored with lemon and vanilla.
Patten said the secret to her delicious ricotta filling with a light, pebbly texture is the quality of cheese she uses.
“I used to work for a cheese distributor. There are a lot of different kinds of ricotta, and that makes a difference. We use a really good ricotta.”
Patten’s bakery offers shells dipped in chocolate, with one version coated in chopped peanuts.
Here’s something fun: Patten offers a canine-friendly cannoli, purchased from a bakery in Marysville, made with carob and other dog-safe ingredients for furry friends.
Location: 602 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma; 253-627-5070; corinabakery.com.
Find: One kind of cannoli, $2.50.
Molly Ott, owner of Tacoma’s Corina Bakery, prefers her cannoli with a light-and-airy filling. It’s not a traditional ricotta filling, but that’s typical of Ott’s baked goods. “We want to take something that’s traditional, like making an Italian cannoli, and turn it into an American dessert,” said Ott.
I’m not a purist in the landscape of desserts, which is why I was not disappointed to bite into a crunchy cookie filled with a whipped, airy filling with no sign of ricotta. I found the texture and flavor outstanding.
Ott, too, keeps her cannoli cold. In fact, she freezes them after filling, which solidifies the fluffy interior and keeps the cookie coating crunchy.
She makes her filling with cream cheese, which imparted an interesting tang, and heavy whipping cream that gave it a satiny finish with “a touch of orange zest to balance out the richness of the cream,” said Ott.
She also dips her cannoli shells in semi-sweet, high-quality chocolate ganache fortified with high-fat cream, which resulted in another layer of luxurious texture. The chocolate dip provides an added bonus of creating a barrier that keeps the filling separate and the cookie snappy, said Ott.
The result? A snappy shell with a whisper of sweetness broke to the lemon-tinged filling, a pillowy cloud encased in a thick ring of chocolate. This cannoli was designed for chocolate lovers.
COTTAGE BAKERY AND CAFE
Location: 212 Washington Ave. N., Eatonville; 360-832-1959.
Find: One kind of cannoli always in stock, $2.55. Plus seasonal pumpkin cannoli coming soon (if not already). In the spring, find strawberry cannoli, too.
Alicia Nelson, who runs Eatonville’s Cottage Bakery with her mother Laurie Tartaglia, did not love cannoli at first bite. “They weren’t bad, but I thought I could make them better,” she said. The problem for her was the same so many have with cannoli: the texture of the ricotta.
“I don’t like that texture,” she said. “So we added whipped cream to the ricotta filling and some vanilla. And a little bit of this and that. We thicken it up and make it creamier. I prefer it over straight ricotta, which can get slimy,” said Nelson.
Her cannoli filling almost had the body of buttercream frosting, but with a sturdier texture. It also was much sweeter than any other on the tour. The cookie shell was lighter and softer, with almost a pastry texture in lieu of a cookie-style crunch. She finishes her cannoli with a drizzle of chocolate.