I recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post on the secret to making great cannoli. The secret, by the way, is to use my mother’s recipe, which she developed in the 1970s, and which, I can tell you, has stood the test of time. The crisp-fried shells, flavored with cocoa powder and finely ground espresso crunch and shatter ~ just a little ~ when you bite into them, and the fresh ricotta cream is lightened ~ just a little ~ with whipped cream.
The only detail I’ve changed is that I garnish my cannoli with homemade candied orange peel rather than store-bought, which I have never cared for.
Some cooks are intimidated by the candying process, which calls for poaching fruit in sugar syrup, but it’s easier than you might think, and it is especially easy to candy citrus peel. As the peel absorbs the hot syrup, it is transformed from a bitter pithy thing into a chewy-soft confection with jewel-like translucence.
Once the peel has been candied, you can, if you like, coat the strips in sugar to make them sparkle. I like, so I do.
Obviously, you are not required to make cannoli to go with your candied orange peel. The strips on their own make a nice after-dinner sweet. If you want to get fancy, you dip the candied peel in melted tempered bittersweet chocolate and let it dry for the perfect accompaniment to an espresso. I put chopped candied peel in panforte, and, occasionally in sweet breads.
You can use this same process to candy lemon, lime, and other citrus peel; just make sure to choose fruit with a fairly thick rind. Some cooks eliminate the pith before candying, but I leave it because it retains a slight bitterness that I like and the candied peel stays appealingly soft and chewy.
These sparkling sugared strips are a classic garnish for cannoli, but they have plenty of other uses, too. Their texture is somewhat softer than typical candied citrus peel.
Chop them finely and add them to cakes or pastries or dip them in bittersweet chocolate and serve them with espresso for an elegant, light dessert. And don’t limit yourself to oranges; you can peel lemons, limes and grapefruit using the same technique.
Store the candied peel in a clean, airtight glass container at room temperature for up to 1 month. This recipe is adapted from "Williams-Sonoma The Art of Preserving: Sweet and Savory Recipes to Enjoy Seasonal Produce Year-Round" (Weldon Owen; 2010).
- 3 organic navel oranges, preferably with thick peel, rinsed well
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups water
- About 1/2 cup superfine sugar, for coating
Use a sharp paring knife to slice off the top and bottom of each orange. Score the oranges, making vertical slices at 1-inch intervals and cutting just through the peel and pith but not into the flesh. Pull off the segments of peel and slice them vertically into strips about 1/4 inch wide. (Reserve the flesh for another use.)
Place the strips of peel in a saucepan with water to cover by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, and cook the peels gently for about 45 minutes, until just tender. Drain in a colander set in the sink.
Set a wire cooling rack on a rimmed baking sheet.
Combine the granulated sugar and 2 cups of water in the same saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then reduce the heat to low and add the drained peels. Cook gently, stirring from time to time, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the peels are tender and most (but not all) of the syrup has been absorbed. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peels to the rack, taking care to keep them from touching. Let dry for 1 to 2 hours. (Don’t discard the syrup; store it in a jar in the refrigerator and use it to sweeten brewed tea.)
Spoon about 1/2 cup superfine sugar into a quart-size zip-top bag. Add 3 or 4 strips of peel to the bag and shake to coat with evenly. Place coated strips back on the rack, taking care to keep them separate. Continue until you have coated all the strips. Let dry overnight, turning them once or twice, before serving or storing.