Sue Sabetta lives across the street from Little Italy’s Holy Rosary Church. She was born in the neighborhood and has lived all of her 83 years there. She also makes an unbelievable cannoli — a recipe she’s never read from a card, but instead has committed to memory after learning it as a child in her mother’s kitchen.

Cannoli — creamy ricotta cheese, sometimes with almonds or chocolate chips, stuffed into a crispy shell: It’s one of the reasons we love the food that comes out of Little Italy so much. Though Sebetta says she only makes this decadent Italian dessert a few times a year — for Easter, Christmas and sometimes for the Feast of the Assumption — she broke with tradition to show us how it’s done.

Too busy to cook?
Sabetta recognizes it’s a lot of work to make this treat. “You know it’s worth it,” she points out, “when you have to pay $4 for just one.” But when the craving strikes, she recommends Corbo’s Bakery’s two locations (12210 Mayfield Road, Cleveland, 216-421-8181 and 17400 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, 216-251-1844) for the freshest, most authentic cannoli.

Sue Sabetta’s Cannoli
[makes about six dozen]

Cannoli shells
3 tablespoons shortening
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 whole eggs (room temperature), beaten
4 cups flour
1 cup rosé wine
Milk for sealing dough
Vegetable/canola oil for frying

1 pound ricotta cheese (Sebetta prefers fresh from Alesci’s Italian Deli in South Euclid)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 (41-gram) Hershey bars with almonds, chopped (optional)
Powdered sugar for dusting

To make the dough, cream the sugar and shortening, then add eggs and beat together. Add flour and wine[ 1 ], and knead until the dough is soft.

Shape the dough into a log or narrow loaf. Slice in 1/2-inch sections and roll through a pasta machine or with a pin until very thin. Cut into 3-inch squares, and wrap the sections diagonally around cannoli tubes (but not too tight). Seal with milk[ 2 ] and deep fry until golden. Remove with tongs.

Remove shells from tubes[ 3 ] (If you’re using metal tubes, make sure they cool before handling). Set shells aside to cool.

For the filling, beat the cheese with a fork until smooth. Add sugar and beat until it is dissolved. Fold in chocolate, and use a spoon to fill cannoli from both ends, pushing the filling into the middle of the shell. Wait to fill the shells until almost ready to serve. Otherwise, they get soggy.

Secrets of the Family Recipe

[ 1 ] According to Sabetta’s friend and fellow baker Cynthia Cannon, the wine provides a distinctive taste to the dough but primarily serves as an acid to congeal the dough for good consistency.
[ 2 ] Cannon emphasizes using milk rather than eggs. She explains, “The milk binds with the dough to make a paste, while eggs can make the seams too hard and cause them to break.”
[ 3 ] The trick is to twist the cannoli tube as you push the dough off. “If I only break six,” Sabetta says, “I’m OK. Sometimes I break more.” Also, make sure you don’t wrap the dough too tight to begin with.
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