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The cream of the crop

Cannoli judge searches for the best

Cannoli judge searches for the best

July 30, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

My only credentials for judging cannoli are geography and sugar.

I grew up on Long Island, where Italian and German bakeries are almost as common as pizza parlors.

My mother, from whom I probably inherited a sweet-tooth gene, usually included cannoli when she bought desserts for us.

I've eaten hundreds of cannoli, and that includes a few during a visit to Italy.

During my travels through the Tri-State area, I've eaten a few good ones.

But, here, I've also found the single worst one I've ever tasted.

It had no sugar or sweetness.

This was like being served red liquid called "Merlot" in a long-stemmed glass and finding out it contained no grapes.

At that restaurant, I did something that still pains me. I walked away from a mostly whole cannoli.

I made no fuss, but the owner came out to see what was wrong, then implied that my tastes were misguided and unrefined. I argued back.

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My colleagues have heard this story and how indignant I get about that confrontation.

Maybe it's because of my pseudo-snobbery in this food category that The Herald-Mail's Lifestyle section asked me to judge local cannoli.

My response: Sweet!

The envelope, please

Last week, I was given two cannoli one day and three the next in a blind taste test. I noted the size, appearance and consistency of each pastry. But I was mostly looking for a strongly sweet filling, midway between fluffy and solid.

All five were good, but three were in a higher class.

The winning margin between the top two would have been a nose, if they were horses. To my surprise, I picked the cannoli of Riehl's Bakery at the Pennsylvania Dutch Market over Al Pomodoro's; both the market and the restaurant are in Hagerstown. The cannoli of Dolce, another restaurant in Hagerstown, was a close third.

The top tier

I need to explain one deciding factor.

The shell on the winning entry was a little chewy, rather than crunchy. Purists might scoff. But, here, I think it works.

I think the shell's roll is to be a vessel for the cream. The Riehl's shell played a solid supporting role, literally, for the filling, which was as sweet and tasty as any in the bunch. I gave extra points for the right dusting of powdered sugar. A small minus was that the cream stopped short of the edge of the shell.

The Al Pomodoro cannoli, with a crunchy yet firm shell, was an excellent second. Chocolate chips were evenly scattered in the cream, which was a shade less sweet. The extra cream that dripped out in the box and the plentiful powdered sugar that spilled off the shell were a treat to scoop up at the end.

I later found out that Riehl's gets its cannoli from a Reading, Pa., wholesaler already prepared and only adds powdered sugar. Hmm. But Riehl's cannoli cost $1.95 (including tax), compared to $5.25 at Al Pomodoro.

Dolce's had a very thick, bumpy shell. I found a few chips in the cream, which had a just-right sweetness.

You wouldn't go wrong with any of the top three.

The bottom tier

The sample from Tony's on Pennsylvania Avenue, north of Hagerstown, wasn't bad, but the sweetness was too subtle for me. A wafery shell overshadowed the cream's taste. I did, however, like that the dimpled shell kept powdered sugar from falling off.

I wasn't sure what to make of the fifth entry, from Rocco's Italian American Family Restaurant in Hagerstown. It had good points, like bountiful cream, but was too different for my tastes. The cream was a little lumpy and flavored with cinnamon.

Also, the shell crumbled the easiest, which I didn't mind, and I appreciated getting a good deal of chocolate chips. But I wasn't pleased that cream wasn't filled to the center, which is where I take my final bite.

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