Even before my love of Italian cuisine was ignited, I fell for cannoli. What’s not to like about a tube of fried pastry dough filled with a sweet, creamy filling? Between my sweet tooth and appreciation for foods with a fan-base, I was enamored with the cream filled pastry before I took my first bite.
You had me at cream-filled pastry
Originally a Sicilian pastry, cannoli is a beloved pastry of all Italian Americans. A fried pastry shell filled with sweetened ricotta or pastry cream, the cannoli is a dessert with many variations. Some argue a cannoli isn’t a cannoli if it isn’t piped fresh. Others say ricotta is the only proper filling. Italian pastry chefs argue over authentic cannoli toppings like powdered sugar, pistachios, chocolate chips and sprinkles. Though cannoli may seem like a simple dessert, this crunchy-creamy confection has the power to start culinary wars.
In the Italian neighborhood of Boston, there’s a sort of Capulet and Montegue division of cannoli eaters that inspires heated arguments between North End couples and families when ever it’s time to eat dessert. In the North End, the Capulet family would be played by 50-year old Mike’s Pastry
and the Montegue clan would feature the 70-year old Modern Pastry shop.
I was inducted into the Mike’s Pastry camp the day I had my first bite of cannoli by a life-time Mike’s pastry customer. By default, I remained a dedicated customer of Mike’s throughout my decade living in Boston. But after ten years away from my East coast city, I felt it was time to test my affiliations.
After a side-by-side taste test (that required some crafty hiding of competitor pastry boxes) I must proclaim The Modern the clear taste test winner. Though Mike’s will always hold a special place in my heart—they were my first cannoli after all—I must admit they are not the best cannoli shop in Boston*.
The key reason for the Modern’s win is the crispness of its pastry shell. By piping the cannoli to order, the Modern’s pastry maintains its structural integrity and crisp texture. With its sweetened ricotta filling, the Modern cannoli is, in my estimation, the perfect expression of the classic Italian dessert. Its beguiling texture and perfectly sweet filling makes sharing a near impossibility. The vanilla cream cannoli is velvety and sweet, but in my opinion doesn’t match the simplicity of the ricotta filled classic.
Be sure to try their ricotta pie and Sfogliatella when available!
The Modern is a lovely place to enjoy a pastry and cappuccino and listen to the old men chat in Italian at the neighboring tables.
*Why not Mike’s?
Though Mike’s Pastry makes its cannoli fresh daily, their cannoli sit on the shelves for hours after being piped fresh that morning. The result, the pastry dough’s fried shell is slightly soft, and doesn’t have the crunch a freshly-piped cannoli should have. The ricotta filling is dense and sweet—almost too sweet for my palate—and requires a good strong cup of coffee to balance things out.