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Natalie Zarzour, chef-owner of Pasticceria Natalina, dissects the perfect cannoli.
By Heather Shouse. Photograph by Brendan Lekan. |

“Many places use mass-produced shells and make them as dense and hard as possible so that they can be filled, stuck in a bakery case and absorb the cream really slowly so they won’t get soggy as fast, but really the shell is supposed to be as delicate and light as possible. It consists of flour, sugar, shortening, eggs and wine, and the wine is the only way you can get the little bubbles that help make it airy. It must be deep-fried and then stored, unfilled, between paper towels in an airtight container at room temperature. It’s absolutely crucial to fill them to order.”

“Ricotta is a by-product of the cheese-making process, and [because] in the old country it used to only be available in spring, you’d get the pastries only around Easter time. Using sheep’s-milk ricotta is key, but because the sheep’s milk is very pungent for most palates, I cut the stuff I have flown in from Sicily with cow’s-milk ricotta for a 70/30 blend, then whip it until it’s creamy and aerated and add a little powdered sugar.”

“The most important part about the chocolate chips is the size and the amount used. Tiny chips are crucial, and only [use] a little bit, never so much that all you taste is chocolate. Also, it has to be a dark, bitter chocolate to counter the sweetness and to create perfect harmony with the orange peel. Historically, Sicilians have never been milk-chocolate people.”

“It’s not uncommon to find cannoli without candied citrus in the cream, mainly because it’s a time-consuming process. I think it’s important, so I candy lemon and orange peels and then dice them into little pieces and fold them into the ricotta filling.”

“In Sicily, you’ll see many places that finish their cannoli with candied cherries on the ends. Actually, the pistachios are more popular now in America, but if you look closely you’ll see that many places use peanuts that are dyed green because it’s much cheaper. I let our customers choose either candied cherries, candied orange zest or chopped pistachios. And I only use raw, unsalted pistachios from either Iran or Sicily, which are considered the best in the world.”

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