Cannoli is an Italian pastry that most people absolutely enjoy. Although cannolis are one of the most popular desserts throughout Italy and the world, not many people know the history of the cannoli. While it may seem like a simple pastry item, cannoli is laden with sweet history. So, let’s discover the history of cannoli and many curiosities about this delicious specialty.
History of cannoli Siciliani
The history of the cannoli is a reflection of the variety of cultures and people that, throughout the centuries, have inhabited Sicily. As a strong symbol representing Italian heritage, the cannoli has a unique and rich history. The traditional version of the cannoli originated in Palermo. In this time, Sicily was under Arab rule and making traditional food stand out was important for the locals. So, many accounts point to the Sicilian city of Palermo, but the filling may have first been created by ancient Arabic people.
Who invented the First Cannoli?
The exact origin of cannoli isn’t entirely clear. There are two tales surrounding the origin of cannolis. The first one takes place in an Arab prince’s harem inside his castle during the Arabic domination of the island. The emir’s many concubines spent their time creating luscious meals and delicious desserts, among them a cylinder-shaped pastry case filled with ricotta, almonds, and honey. The second tale takes place in a convent, outside of the castle, where nuns concocted a new type of pastry made of a shell called “scoria” with a filling of ricotta, sugar, chocolate, and almonds to celebrate Carnevale, which is a celebration that takes place in all of Italy before Lent begins. This sweet treat is now available all year round.
Digging into the mysterious history of cannoli Siciliani
Whether it was concubines or nuns, historians believe that both legends have a seed of the truth and that the creation of the cannoli took place in or around the city of Caltanissetta between 827 and 1091. Whatever the origin, the treats became associated with Sicilian Carnevale as a fertility symbol. In addition, many of the ingredients used in a cannoli are of Arabic origin like sugar cane and almonds. Wherever it started, it had traveled to the United States by the late 19th century, where it caught fire and became an American favorite.
What’s in a Name?
In Italian, cannoli is a plural name whose singular form is cannolo. It is a diminutive of canna, which means a cane-like reed such as sugar cane. The form cannolis as a very rare plural form, but also cannolo is widely accepted as a singular form. These delicious desserts are now a favourite all over Italy where they are known as cannoli Sicilliani meaning Sicilian cannoli.
What does a river reed have to do with a pastry? The key is the shape. Early pastry chefs used to use these reeds to shape their dough before putting them in oil to fry.
Nowadays, for hygiene reasons you won’t find cannoli made with river reeds – even in the most authentic Italian restaurant. Canes have been replaced by special steel cylinders. They are probably more healthy and practical. Chefs at Italian Villa use metal tubes, which are a lot more sanitary.
What’s in a Shape?
According to legend, the tubular shape is a sign of fertility, of a generating force and pushing away evil influences. There are cannoli as thin as a cigarette (aptly called sigaretta) and as big as a fist, but we found the dried cannelloni produced an ideal size that are easy to handle and, more importantly, just the right size to warrant seconds.
How to make cannoli?
A traditional cannoli recipe consists of a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough. The shell is made of flour, butter, sugar, and a number of other ingredients. This dough is rolled into ovals and wrapped around a dough ring and fried to produce a crisp bubbled shell “scorch”. The essential bubbles are created by adding a little vinegar into the dough mixture and because it evaporates quickly during the frying, thus creating this all important texture on the tube.
This is then filled with sweet creamy ricotta and dusted with sugar. The flavours can range from lemon, almonds, honey, candied fruits to pistachio. The filling is where the cannoli gets most of its flavor. In addition, the size of the cannoli varies as much as the filing’s flavorings. The pastry can be as small as the finger-sized cannulicchi to fist-sized offerings from Piana degli Albanesi, a town near Palermo.
Cannoli making is serious business in Sicily and for bakers, the quality and standards of their bakery can be judged solely on the basis of how good their cannoli is.
Cannoli Recipe Variations
The variations in cannolis existed even then but it wasn’t till the 20th century that cannoli had greater reach and even greater variations. Italians immigrating to America during the early 1900s made adaptions to the original cannoli recipe. This was mainly due to a lack of ingredients, however it sparked the beginning of the great range we have available today.
Around the world, there are many variations to the traditional cannoli recipe. Such as rolling the tubes in chocolate and pistachio nuts or filling them with chocolate-flavoured ricotta, strawberry, and pecan caramel.
Despite the variants, the structure has remained the same. Despite their origin, Cannolis have endured for over one thousand years it is because this palatable pastry has met the taste of every epoch.
At Italian Villa, we also specialize in making homemade traditional Italian desserts like cannolis. You don’t have to travel to Italy to enjoy the best cannoli of your life! Like the rest of our menu, our cannoli are part of a long tradition of Italian excellence. One bite will suffice to make you experience the Sicilian way of life. Visit us and discover this delicious tradition made by our chefs.
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