Desserts

Cannoli Whoopie Pies

I drew recipe inspiration from two of my favorite places, put them together, and the result was one of my new favorite desserts. It’s simple math.

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I think it’s safe to say cannoli are America’s favorite Italian pastry. Especially in New England. Have you ever been to Boston? Ask any Bostonian where to find the best cannoli in town, and not only will they tell you their favorite, they’ll offer an anecdote about the owner and give you directions on how to get there. Mike’s Pastry seems to wear the crown, as it’s fame would dictate.

Strangely enough, I did not eat cannoli while living in Italy. In fact, I struggled to even find one. I was primarily in Bologna and stayed North in all my travels, never venturing farther south than Florence. Cannoli are Sicilian, or Southern Italian. I guess finding one in the upper part of the country is akin to finding a donut on the West Coast of America.

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I can’t say I was terribly disappointed. I have the same weirdo feelings about cannoli as I do chocolate chip cookies. I like them. I won’t turn one down, but there are a lot of desserts I’d rather eat. Tiramisu, now that is an Italian dessert I could eat morning, noon, and night. Except the ones I tried while actually in Italy. But that’s a (sad) story for another day.

I think it must be the fried shells I could take or leave, because I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t eat that ricotta filling with a spoon. That’s where these Cannoli Whoopie Pies come in.

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Have you ever had a whoopie pie? Tell me you have. Say it. “Whoopie pie.” Isn’t that fun? Whoopie pies are a New England/Pennsylvania tradition. On the cross-country road trip I took, Amish country was actually my first stop. I may or may not have also really wanted to go to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where an Emeril’s Restaurant and the bakery of my former vegan dreams can be found. Both were totally worth the detour, if you were wondering.

Amish country on the other hand… Lancaster… well I’m set for the time being. It wasn’t what I was expecting, that’s for sure. I think I had romantic visions of fields of galloping horses surrounding me everywhere I went, and calling a taxi only to have a horse-drawn carriage arrive at the door. I also had high horsey expectations for Kentucky, and that surely isn’t reality either.

Where does a girl have to go to be surrounded by free running ponies?!

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Anyways. While in Lancaster I went to their big farmer’s market, where there were whoopie pies abound. Mostly the traditional chocolate ones, baked to be the size of my face. I had made mini pumpkin whoopie pies with cream cheese filling in the past and loved them. They’re basically a cupcake in an easier to eat form. That was a few years ago. Then this past Christmas I made gingerbread whoopie pies, to use up some leftover cream cheese mascarpone frosting; they were to die for. Thus began my whoopie pie obsession.

I keep a kitchen “to do” list of things I want to make, categorized into sweet and savory and organized by order of importance. Totally normal. Anyway, into the “sweet” column immediately went four different varieties of whoopie pies I brainstormed. First was a red velvet whoopie pie. Do you see it posted anywhere on this blog? No. We’re not gonna talk about it either.

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Next were these Cannoli Whoopie Pies, and I’m pleased to say  that after the crimson fiasco of earlier this month, these were a great success. If you’ve never actually eaten a whoopie pie, I’ll tell you a little more about them. The filling is pretty self-explanatory. It’s usually just a fluffy frosting of sorts. In this recipe it is so much more. That delicious ricotta cream found in cannoli is what inspired this recipe in the first place. I wanted all of that ricotta goodness, but needed it to have a more stable texture to stand up to the cookies. I beat some cream cheese into the mix to do the trick. A half cup of powdered sugar is all you’ll need. Amazing, seeing as most fillings contain anywhere from 6-8 times that amount of sugar!

We’ll flavor it with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon, and orange zests. You’ll notice how very little of each I’ve indicated to use. So little you might think, why even bother? Trust me, bother. So subtle, but it makes all the difference and gives the filling a very authentic taste. A few mini chocolate chips make their way into the mix because aren’t they everyone’s favorite part about cannoli?! I discourage the use of regular-sized chocolate chips here. Use mini, or leave them out.

This filling gets held between two little cakey cookies. The whoopie pie enigma. Are they cakes, or are they cookies? It really is something right in between; when you try one you’ll understand. These yellow, vanilla-y bites are perfect. They’re soft, fluffy, slightly buttery, but have sturdy golden edges reminiscent of a cookie. I’ll take these sandwiched around that light ricotta cream over a fried cannoli shell any day!

If you’ve never made a whoopie pie, they take a bit of time and  a few bowls, but are no more time-consuming or difficult than making cupcakes. In order to get those perfectly round circles, you’ll need to use a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip, like this one. If you don’t care so much about he geometry of your whoopie pies, then you may just do your best with a spoon.

Just think, it’s all still considerably easier and less messy than trying to fry cannoli shells at home. Even I haven’t done that. There’s no need, when these Cannoli Whoopie Pies are as good as it gets. Soft cookies and dreamy ricotta filling sandwiched together then rolled in miniature chocolate chips and crunchy pistachios. In my best New England/Italian slang, I deem these wicked buoni.

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Cannoli Whoopie Pies
Yields 24 small whoopie pies

The southern Italian bakery favorite, transformed into adorable little cookie sandwiches. Save yourself the time and mess it takes to fry cannoli shells, and make these easy whoopie pies instead!

INGREDIENTS

Cookies:
  • 2 ½ cups (300g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (50g) light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk, room temperature
Ricotta Filling:
  • 6oz. whole milk ricotta cheese (drain excess liquid first, then measure)
  • 4oz. brick-style cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (90g) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. lemon zest*
  • 1/8 tsp. orange zest*
  • 2 oz. miniature semisweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 2 oz. pistachios, finely chopped (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Prepare a large pastry bag with a wide round tip.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Using a hand mixer or an electric stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed for one to two minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, and continue to beat a minute longer until fluffy.

With the mixer turned down to medium low, add half the dry ingredients. Stream in the buttermilk, mixing until it’s mostly incorporated, then add the remaining dry ingredients. Turn off the mixer just as soon as a thick batter forms, being careful not to over beat.

Fill the pastry bag with about half the batter, or as much as you can comfortably fit. Pipe the cookies in circles about one inch in diameter, and half an inch high onto the baking sheets. Space them at least one and a half inches apart, as they will spread slightly. Refill the pastry bag with the remaining batter and continue to pipe circles until you have about 48 cookies.

Place the sheets in the refrigerator while you preheat the oven to 350°F. Once hot, bake the cookies for 10-11 minutes, until domed and slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the sheets for five minutes before transferring to cooling racks. Wait at least an hour before assembling with the filling.

To make the filling, beat together the cream cheese and ricotta in a large bowl until thoroughly combined and no lumps remain. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and zests, if using. Continue to beat on medium speed for about two more minutes. Turn off the mixer, and fold in an ounce of the chocolate chips. Save the remainder for rolling the cookies.

To assemble, mix together the remaining chocolate chips and pistachios in a small bowl. Spoon about one scant tablespoon of filling in the center of a cookie. Top with another cookie and gently press so that the filling spreads towards the edges. You don’t want it spilling out the sides. Roll the edges of the cookie in the chocolate and nut mixtures, so that the edges are coated. Place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining cookies.

Refrigerate for one hour. Dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving, if desired.

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