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The Great British Bake Off And Italian Sweet Sicilian Cannoli

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Week 7 in The Great British Bake Off, GBBO for the first time tackled Italian week where the contestants cooked a classic margarita pizza, sofagliatelle and cannoli. Everyone is talking about cannoli since the programme aired on Tuesday.

The word cannoli which means little tube is a traditional Sicilian dessert and singly they are known as cannolo. These delicious desserts are now a favourite all over Italy where they are known as cannoli Sicilliani meaning Sicilian cannoli.

It is made using a pastry dough that is rolled in a circle and rolled around a tube to create its iconic shape, then is deep 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 and the size too from "cannulicchi" finger size to fist size found typically south of Palermo. Traditionally baked for lent, this sweet treat is now available all year round. 

The history of cannoli is part legend, part culinary history. The first mention goes as far back as 100 years BC by the Ancient Romans. Cicero mentions the existence in Sicily of a cylinder shaped pastry tube that makes the sweetest of foods and is very similar in description to cannoli. Forward to 827 and 1091 when Sicily was dominated by Arabs who brought many of the now familiar ingredients, sugar cane, rice, cinnamon, saffron and almonds. Add the culinary skills of convent nun bakers who then added traditional local sheep's ricotta cheese. It therefore seems that that cannoli was present in Roman times but evolved to how we know it today thanks to a fusion of Arab and Sicilian culinary traditions and the skill of nuns in the Sicilian convents. 

You don't need to know the history to appreciate how good they are, so do try when next in Italy. This quintessential Sicilian pastry is finger food, even though it can be a bit messy, just pick it up and take a bite from each end so the centre of the shell is unbroken with a coffee or dessert drink.

Buon appetito.

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