January 2, 2012

Cannoli Cupcakes (aka "The Tricia")

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Happy 2012! I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year's. I'm liking these weekend holidays, I must say. An extra day off to relax? Yes, please. Two four-day weeks in a row? Thank you kindly. Now, I work part time, so I don't get holiday pay, but I've been working extra hours anyhow, so really it doesn't make any difference to me.

Now, I come from an Italian family, so the holidays generally mean some classic Italian desserts. Struffoli, pizzelle, rainbow cookies, but the big favorite are always the cannolis. A cannoli is a fried round pastry shell filled with an orange and almond flavored cream. They can be dusted with powdered sugar, or the shells can be dipped in chocolate. There are usually pieces of chocolate mixed in, and they're often garnished with candied fruits or citrus peels.

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The cream has a ricotta and cream cheese base (well, if you're a cheap American it does. The original Italian pastries use marscapone and ricotta). Ricotta is a creamy cheese, a lot like cottage cheese in terms of texture, with a sweet, nutty flavor that lends itself well to both sweet and savory dishes.

Now, I've never really been a fan of creamy. Pudding? No thank you. Yogurt? Only if it's frozen. Whipped cream? It gets in the way of my ice cream. So despite my Italian-American heritage, I've never really liked cannolis. Suffice it to say, I would never have come up with the idea for these cupcakes on my own.

On Christmas Eve, my cousin Tricia asked me if I could make cannolis. I told her the truth: I didn't really like the cannolis, and I wouldn't be able to make the shells. So she came up with what she decided was the next best thing. "The cream is really what matters," she said. "Can you put the cream in a cupcake?"

That, I could do.

So, I did a little research and came up with the idea of an almond chocolate chip cupcake, filled with cannoli cream, topped with an orange cream cheese frosting. I also decided to garnish it with the candied citrus peels (which were so much easier to make than I had thought, and so very tasty), and crushed ice cream cones to simulate the crunch of the shell. The result? My mother took one bite and said, "They taste like a cannoli." Perfect reaction.

When we had these for dessert New Year's Eve, Tricia told me that if I ever opened a bakery, I should name these after her. So these cupcakes shall be henceforth known as "The Tricia."
The cast of characters for the cupcake portion of The Tricia: cake flour, unsalted butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla extract, almond extract, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and chocolate chips. I waffled a bit about adding the chocolate chips, worried I was throwing too many flavors around, so I asked my brother (who loves cannolis). Now, he generally has no opinion about my cupcakes, but about this, he was adamant. If I wasn't going to put them in the cream, I had to put them in the cupcakes. So keep that in mind if you're thinking of skipping them. *shakes finger*

And milk. You need milk. It was a last minute addition, so it's not so much a ninja ingredient as an unexpected one.

Now, if you're like me and don't keep cake flour on hand, you can use all-purpose flour and cornstarch. For every cup of flour, replace 1 tablespoon flour with 1 tablespoon cornstarch. So here we're using 2 1/2 cups of flour. Measure it out, remove 2 1/2 tablespoons of the flour, and add 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch. The only reason I did it this way was because I wanted to make sure that I had a nice dense batter so the chocolate chips wouldn't sink.
You should know this drill by now. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat together until fluffy.
Add the eggs, beating well after each addition, the extracts, and the sour cream. Add the flour mixture. Before the flour has been fully combined, add the milk and beat until smooth.
With a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips. Be careful not to over mix.
 Fill your cupcake liners about 3/4 of the way full (about 2 tablespoons of batter). This is a pretty sturdy batter and can handle a little over-filling, so you don't have to be too precise.
Clearly, this isn't the same batch as the one above. That or I have a magic cupcake growing muffin tin
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 17 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. These cupcakes are excellent on their own. They're light and fluffy, with a tender crumb. They'd be perfect served with a simple glaze and a cup of tea. But today, we're filling them with cannoli cream.
For the cannoli cream, you need ricotta, cream cheese, vanilla and almond extracts, orange zest, and powdered sugar. The cream doesn't use a whole lot of cream cheese, but don't throw out the rest; we'll use it in the frosting.
The first thing we need to do is drain the ricotta, so put it in a fine mesh sieve and sit it over a bowl for 30 minutes (hopefully, you have a bigger sieve than I do). If you don't have a fine mesh sieve, you can line a colander with paper towels and fit that over a bowl.
See how much liquid there is? We don't want that sogging up our cupcakes.
 Add the drained ricotta, cream cheese, and orange zest to the bowl of a stand mixer.
Well, don't you look all spiffy with your glass bowl there, Viola
 Beat at medium speed, adding in the extracts. Continue to mix until smooth.
Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth and fluffy. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.
To fill the cupcakes, cut a small hole in the middle of the cupcake using either a cupcake corer or a small, sharp knife like a paring knife. Fill the hole with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of cannoli cream. I replaced the cupcake bits after I filled the cupcakes so they'd be easier to frost, but you could always just eat them if you want.
Vanilla: "I refuse to be photographed anymore without proper representation!" Orange: "What a diva."
For the frosting you need: the cream cheese and the orange zest leftover from the cannoli cream, whipping cream, powdered sugar, butter, and, um, vanilla extract. Ninja vanilla extract.
Beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Mix in the orange zest and vanilla. Gradually add the first two cups of powdered sugar. Whip in the cream. Add the remaining powdered sugar.

This frosting actually gave me a fair bit of trouble, as it refused to stiffen up and remained soft. I'm pretty sure I fixed what was wrong with it in the recipe, but if anyone wants to try it out, please let me know.
To garnish are the candied citrus peels and crushed ice cream cones.
And there you have it: The Tricia. Also known as the cannoli cupcake.
If you look carefully, you can see the cream filling. It's not obvious, sorry.
 I prefer these unfilled (see above about creamy), but these were a big hit with my Italian family, so they must be pretty good. And while it might seem complicated, almost everything can be made ahead of time. The cannoli cream can be made the night before, the frosting should keep in the refrigerator for about a week, and the peels keep in an air-tight container indefinitely. Once you've got all of that, the cupcakes are easy to whip up, then you just have to fill, frost, and finish (or garnish, but that's not alliterative)

Cannoli Cupcakes {Printable Version}
Yield: 21 cupcakes


1 recipe Almond Cupcakes (see below)

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 recipe Cannoli Cream Filling (see below)

1 recipe Orange Cream Cheese Frosting(see below)

1 recipe Candied Citrus Peel, for garnish (optional)(see below)

Crushed ice cream cones, for garnish (optional)


Make Almond Cupcakes as directed, EXCEPT: reduce the almond extract to ¼ tsp. and fold in chocolate chips. Cool completely on wire racks. With a cupcake corer or a small paring knife, core the cupcakes. Fill with 1 ½ tsp. Cannoli Cream Filling. Frost with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting, and garnish with Candied Citrus Peel and crushed ice cream cones.

Recipe by Kim

Almond Cupcakes {Printable Version}
 Yield: 21 cupcakes


2 ½ cups cake flour

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

¾ cup sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. almond extract*

2 tbsp. milk


Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 muffin tins with 21 cupcake liners. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl with electric beaters, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the extracts and sour cream, and mix until fully combined. Fold in the flour mixture. Before the flour mixture is fully combined, add the milk. Beat on medium speed until the batter is smooth. Bake 17-19 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks before serving.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting {Printable Version}

6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened

½ tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. finely grated orange zest

3-4 cups powdered sugar, divided

¼ cup whipping cream


In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl with electric beaters, beat the butter and cream cheese at medium speed, until smooth. Mix in vanilla extract and orange zest. With the mixer at low speed, beat in the first 2 cups powdered sugar, ½ cup at a time. Add whipping cream, beating on low speed until just combined, then whipping at high speed 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the remaining sugar, ½ cup at a time, until desired texture and sweetness is achieved.

Cannoli Cream Filling {Printable Version}

1 ¼ cups ricotta cheese

2 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

½ cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. finely grated orange zest

1 tsp. vanilla extract

¼ tsp. almond extract


Put the ricotta in a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl at let sit 30 minutes to drain. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a mixing bowl, add ricotta, cream cheese, orange zest, and vanilla and almond extracts. Using an electric mixer beat until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth and fluffy. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Candied Citrus Peel {Printable Version}
Any citrus peel can be used with this recipe, not just oranges


2 oranges

4 cups water, divided

2 ¼ cups sugar, divided


Using a vegetable peeler with a sawing motion, remove peels from the oranges in long strips, avoiding the white part (pith). In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add the orange peels, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 3-5 minutes. Drain the orange peels, discard water, and repeat with remaining 2 cups water. After boiling the orange peels a second time, remove the peels, but do not discard the water. Add 2 cups sugar to the water and return to a boil. Add the orange peels and boil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Dredge the peels in the remaining ¼ cup sugar, avoiding clumps, and lay out on the cookie sheet. Heat the oven to 200°, turning it off when it reaches temperature. Place the cookie sheet in the warmed oven, and let sit until peels dry and harden, about 1 hour. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Cupcake and frosting recipes by Kim. Cannoli Cream Filling reciped adapted from Food Network Magazine. Candied Citrus Peel recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com.