The cheese selection should be center stage on a cheese board, but ample consideration must be given to the crackers. Maybe it’s the sleeve of Club crackers you grew up with, crunchy slices of baguette, or an untameable pile of Pretzel Crisps, but consider pairing your cheeses and dips with something unexpected. Try adding cannoli shell crackers to the mix.
Cannoli shells are the crunchy, slightly bubbly, tube of deep-fried pastry that surrounds a lightly sweetened cheese mixture to form one of the most beloved Italian treats: the cannoli. The cannoli itself is divine and needs no improvement, but if you deconstruct the parts, you’re looking at a crunchy vehicle that carries a tasty cheese.
Cannoli shells are a phenomenal bridge between a cracker and pie crust. They’re a little bulkier than a lot of crackers, with a bit of butter and egg yolk woven inside to add richness and make it a tad bubbly. The shells are more sturdy than most pie crust, have the added flavor and texture of being deep-fried, and the addition of wine adds an unusual, but welcome, funkiness. Perfect for equally funky cheeses. (You could substitute for water for if you make your shells at home, but the wine is fun.)
I don’t often see cannoli shells for sale in grocery store freezers sections, but some in-store bakery sections will sell you individual, unfilled shells. You can also hit up your local Italian bakery and buy them there. When you get home, break them into a few big pieces and nestle the shards amongst your cheeses. The slightly curved shape makes them excellent for scooping up dips. If you simply cannot find the shells pre-made, make your own.
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Classic cannoli shells are made by cutting the pastry into circles and wrapping them around special, small metal tubes before carefully deep-frying them. You can follow any cannoli shell recipe, and stop before the metal tube part. It’s a tricky business because the shells can stick and break, but for our purposes you don’t need to do this. Just roll out the dough and cut it into any shape you like. I prefer haphazard rectangles. Then fry them quickly in a skillet with about a ¼ to ½-inch of oil. No specialty tools, less oil, less frying time.
Here’s a simple cannoli cracker recipe for your cheese board. Since all of the ingredients are dumped into a small food processor, it’s easier to make than most cracker recipes. Pulse about 12 times until it just comes together in a single mass. Roll it out to about ⅛-inch thick and dock the entire pastry, deeply, with a fork. Cut out cracker-ish shapes and fry in a pan with about a ½-inch of neutral flavored oil. Place on a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes, and serve. These crackers keep in an airtight container for about three days, but the texture is best on day one.
Easy cannoli crackers
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon of cold butter
- 1 egg yolk
- ¼ cup wine (Marsala is common, but you could substitute another, or use water)
- Neutral flavored oil for frying
Heat a half-inch of frying oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. The target temperature is 350°F to 360°F.
Put all of the other ingredients into a food processor and pulse just until a single mass forms. Dust a work surface with flour, and roll out the pastry to an ⅛-inch thickness. Dock the whole thing with a fork to control the bubbling. Cut it into whatever shapes you like for crackers.
Fry the pieces in the oil for about 30 seconds per side, or until a nice brown color is achieved. Cool them on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving with cheeses and dips.