May 23, 2012

Cannoli Sandwich Cookies

These delightful sandwich cookies were inspired by the Philadelphia Italian Market. Specifically, the rich, creamy, crispy cannoli I enjoyed from Isgro's Bakery this Saturday during the Italian Market Festival (appropriately, their website is!

I went to the festival with a couple of friends, and boy was it a scene. There was music and dancing in the streets, giant hollow pineapples filled with Pina Colada (don't know how that's Italian, but oh well), tomato pies, sausage and pepper sandwiches, and enormous arancini abound. We perused, ate, and took it all in.

(Thanks for the photo, A.D.... clipped this off of your chronicle of Saturday from Facebook!)

Of all things, our favorite Italian Market treats were those perfect, wonderful cannoli. We were both so sad when we finished our last bites.

Making cannoli is an art. I'm not great at frying things, and I also do not own a cannoli pan. Fast forward to these spin on the cannoli, which I made for a friend's BBQ today. The light, crisp brown sugar cookie on the outside is a decent nod to cannoli shell, minus the frying. Is it identical? No. But it's got wonderful sweet, toasty flavor and allows the cannoli filling to shine. Isn't the filling what it's really all about?

Of course my filling, a ricotta/cream cheese combo, had to have chocolate chips mixed in. That's just how I love my cannoli. Sweet ricotta with semi-sweet hunks laced throughout each bite. But you can mix in crushed pine-nuts (pignoli), pistachios, sprinkles, or any other flavor and texture you enjoy. It would also be super cute and pretty to roll each sandwich cookie in any of the above toppings so they stick to the outside.

Although I might not have the time or equipment to recreate an Isgro's classic (plus, who else can do it like Isgro's!), but for now these cookies are hitting the mark, fulfilling a serious flavor craving, and bringing me right back to Philadelphia's Italian Market.

P.S. - Don't you love the Italian ceramica these cookies are photographed on? It's my favorite, and I can't collect enough. The beautiful colors and unmistakable patterns are yet one more thing that makes me feel like I'm in Italy!

Cannoli Sandwich Cookies: makes 16-20 sandwich cookies, with cookie dough to spare.

For the Brown Sugar Cookies:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Directions:  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer on low, cream together the butter and brown sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat well. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Add slowly to the wet mixture while beating on low, until just combined. Refrigerate mixture 20 minutes until firm. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough on the baking sheet, 2 inches apart, then press colored sprinkles into the top. Bake 8-12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Allow to cool on cookie sheet, then cool completely on a wire rack.

For the Cannoli Filling:

32 oz. fresh whole milk ricotta cheese (strained well if at all watery)
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Directions: In a large mixing bowl with electric beater, beat together the ricotta, cream cheese, lemon zest, and vanilla extract until well combined. Slowly add the powdered sugar, beating until completely combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
To assemble cookies: Place half of the cookies top-down on a baking sheet. Top with generous amount of cannoli filling, dividing evenly among the cookies. Refrigerate open-faced until the filling is slightly chilled. Then, gently press a second cookie, top-up, onto the filling of each. Allow filling to press to the sides of each cookie. Keep chilled until serving (filling will be thicker in texture and easier to eat when chilled).

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