Cannoli are a classic Italian dessert. A basic cannoli is a tube-shaped, deep fried pastry shell that is filled with a sweetened ricotta cheese mixture. They have a great combination of flavors and crisp and creamy textures. They originated in Sicily, but have a huge fan base in Italian communities all over the world. The problem with cannoli is that it can be difficult to find them if you don’t live in an area where you can easily find Italian specialty bakeries – and they tend to not be very good when you buy them from places that don’t specialize in them. They can also be a bit of a pain to make at home, since you need to do a little deep frying to get them started. I like cannoli but wanted to capture their flavor in a different format, so instead of making pastries, I made pie.
This Cannoli Pie captures the essence of all the flavors in a cannoli without the frying. The pie starts with a slightly crisp, cinnamon-kissed shortbread crust. It is filled with a mixture of ricotta cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon. The filling is extremely easy to make but it tastes fantastic when it has baked. It is almost like cheesecake, but with a little more texture to it because it uses ricotta instead of cream cheese. The vanilla and cinnamon really compliment the ricotta and pick up on the hint of cinnamon that is also in the shortbread crust. Even though it comes together easily, this pie tastes like you spent a long time putting it together.
I added mini chocolate chips to my pie because most of the cannolis I encounter have their open ends dipped in mini chocolate chips or chopped pistachios. Chocolate goes very well with this filling, so I sprinkled the mini chips on top of the pie. I wanted them to be visible, like the ones that garnish regular cannoli. A few will sink to the bottom even if you sprinkle them on top of the custard before baking, however they will all sink to the bottom if you try to stir them in to the filling.
I’ve had many cannolis that have a touch of lemon in the filling. I, personally, prefer them without the lemon, but I included a suggestion in the recipe for adding a hint of citrus to the filling of your pie if that suits your tastes. I’ll stick with the vanilla, cinnamon and a little chocolate for mine. If you want to streamline the recipe a little bit, you can use a premade graham cracker or shortbread crust instead of my homemade crust recipe, or you can use a blind-baked pastry crust instead.
Once the pie has been baked and cooled, the leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator. Since the filling for this pie is a custard, the crust will start to soften slightly once it has been refrigerated, so it will loose a little of its crisp cannoli shell-like quality. Fortunately, it still tastes great and the edges of the crust should stay crispy even if you end up storing leftovers for a couple of days.
Leftover pie is not the easiest dessert to store. Cakes can be tucked away in a cake carrier and cookies can be stacked in a small storage box or ziploc bag. Pies require a lot of space, either in the freezer or on the countertop, and can be quite messy if they start to lose their shape once you’ve served a slice or two. Now, if you are just planning to eat the leftovers straight out of the pie pan, you have nothing to worry about, but if you want your leftover pie to keep looking as good as the day you served it, you need some storage options.
I’ve used a pie gate to help a pie keep its shape with fairly good results, but the Fox Run Pie Saver looks like it is a much better way to store a whole pie. The saver can hold an 8, 9 or 10-inch pie neatly and keep it covered, with the included lid. This makes the pie easy to transport – no plastic wrap required. The saver also comes with six triangular slice containers so that you can cut up your pie and keep the slices for easy serving later. These are perfect for tucking in a lunch bag and are a good option when you only have a slice or two of pie leftover and don’t want to keep the whole pie plate in your fridge. The saver will work with any type of pie, but messier pies – such as cream pies and fruit pies – are going to get the best results from a nifty storage container like this one.
A chess pie is a classic southern recipe. The basic pie has a simple filling of eggs, sugar, butter and flour or cornmeal, and it is often flavored with a little lemon or vanilla. The origin of the name is a bit muddled, and the most cited story is that “chess” is derived from “cheese” because this pie has a texture similar to cheesecake – minus the cheese. Personally, I don’t buy that story because this pie is really nothing like a cheesecake. It is, however, unique and delicious – and definitely seems like the kind of thing that my grandma would have liked to serve, even though she wasn’t from the South.
This Lemon Chess Pie is a straightforward recipe that stays true to the roots of a classic chess pie. The filling is made with eggs, milk, butter and plenty of sugar. There is a little bit of yellow cornmeal added, which gives the custardy pie a hint of texture. I also added lemon zest and fresh lemon juice for flavor. The filling has a nice, creamy texture to it, but has some substance to it that allows the pie to be sliced and served easily. The sugar forms a nice, crisp crust on the top of the custard while the pie bakes, which is a great color contrast for the finished pie. The lemon flavor is pronounced, but it isn’t as tart as you would find in a lemon meringue pie.
I like to think of chess pie as an all purpose pie. It is easy to make and you really need very few ingredients to put one together. I know that I always have all of the filling ingredients on hand. You can use a homemade pie crust or can opt for a premade pie crust, if you want to save time. I really recommend using fresh lemon for the best flavor in this pie, as that zest puts this pie over the top makes it memorable.
As far as I’m concerned, there is no bad time for pie. There are so many variations of pie – sweet and savory, baked and chilled, fruit and chocolate – that you can find one for every season and every occasion. That said, it is very clear that fall is pie season and even people who don’t eat pie any other time of the year will indulge in a slice (or three) sometime between Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. To celebrate pie season, I’m kicking off pie week here at Baking Bites, where I’ll be featuring some new pie recipes, pie crust and filling tips, a giveaway and maybe even a new pie-related video (in the meantime, you can enjoy a pumpkin pie video I already have up!). I’ll be adding new updates to this post all week.
Pie Week Posts:
Don’t forget to enter the Perfect Pies giveaway!!
Here are a few links to great pie basics already on the site that are must-reads:
Pie Crust Recipes:
There are times when a whole pie is just too much. Pie is always delicious, of course, but when there are only two people to eat that pie, it can be tough to get through a whole 9-inch pie without the crust getting soggy and it loosing some of its deliciousness. There are also times when you might not want to bake a whole pie because you are looking for a more variety than a single pie will offer. For instance, you might want to serve both apple and cherry pie for dessert, or a meat and vegetarian savory pie for dinner. Two whole pies would mean that you need even more people to share them with. Since I’m not always baking for a huge crowd, the Split Decision Pie Pan immediately caught my eye. This is a unique pie plate that lets you bake two half pies.
The Split Decision pan starts with a regular 9-inch, nonstick pan, but it comes with a matching nonstick divider that perfectly cuts that round plate in half. The base of the divider is generous, and you don’t need to worry about fillings leaking through from one side of the pie to the other. You can line each half of the pan with crust – doing one half at a time, or doing both halves together – and create half pies just as you would a full sized pie. Baking times will be about the same for fruit fillings as the would be for a full sized pie. One extra feature of this pan is that the base is removable, so it is easy to get the half-pies out of the pan to serve. And if you need a full sized pie for an occasion, simply pull out the divider and use the whole pan.