When we went to Italy nearly a year ago, I was looking forward to a lot of things: gelato, wine, pasta, cheese, bread…you get the idea.  Brother, on the other hand, was decidedly more focused – he only wanted cannoli.  That’s it.  I dragged my family through almost every food store we walked by in my quest to bring as much Italy back to Boyfriend as I possibly could, but Brother? Brother searched every single bakery we happened upon because, honestly, the kid could not find cannoli anywhere.  Nowhere!  Not in Venice, not in Florence, and not in Rome.  And if you asked him today how his trip to Italy was last year, the answer might still be, even after all this time, that it would’ve been better if he could have found some freaking cannoli.

I have no idea where the fascination with cannoli came from, and I didn’t know it existed until we were traipsing through the streets of Venice in search of a bakery that made them.  But the kid knows what he likes, and his dessert tastes have always differed markedly from my own.  On my birthday, it’s chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, with a side of cheesecake thrown in for good measure – the sweeter and more decadent, the better (since we all know that calories don’t count on your birthday).  On Brother’s birthday, there is always, always carrot cake.  Carrot cake!  Now, my mom makes a banging carrot cake, and it’s always incredibly delicious, but on my birthday, I’d rather go big or go home.

So when I decided to make an extra cake for Brother’s 17th birthday yesterday (because one cake is just never enough in my family), I went big.  I picked the most unnecessarily large, complex, and involved cake I could find expressly because it involved, you guessed it, cannoli.

I have a new found love of really big, beautiful layer cakes after making two of them in the last month or so.  It’s so gratifying to put all the pieces together after several hours of mixing, baking, and stirring and wind up with a beautiful, delicious creation.  Of course, there’s always that little voice of concern in the back of my head muttering about the fact that I can’t exactly taste it first to make sure it doesn’t suck, but so far that hasn’t been an issue.  Both cakes were a rousing success and I do believe that the monstrous cannoli cake won’t be my last layer cake.

Cannoli Cake

Adapted from Epicurious

I made several changes to this – most notably, I switched all of the almond flavorings for vanilla extract.  Not because I don’t like almond, but because I didn’t have either of those things, but I absolutely had vanilla. So in it went.  If you’re less lazy, I’m sure the almond would be delicious.  I also felt that the proportions were way off here. I wound up with way too much frosting and filling for the amount of cake I had.  I know that sounds ridiculous to say, seeing as how I had three full cake layers here, but it’s true.  Perhaps if you were to split each layer in half (to make six) and do almost a 1:1 ratio of filling to cake on each layer, you might use all the filling.  And obviously, more of the filling equals a taller cake, which means you use more frosting.  The frosting and cake were my personal favorite parts of the cake, and I could see using them elsewhere with a different filling.  But not for Brother’s birthday.  On Brother’s birthday, it has to be cannoli.

For the Cake:

1 ¾ cups sugar

¾ cup butter, softened

3 large eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ cup milk

Butter/cooking spray

3 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and grease three 8-inch cake pans.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each egg is added.  Add vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, mix together salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flour.  Add one third of this mixture to the butter/sugar and beat until mixed.  Add half of the milk and beat. Repeat until all of the flour and milk have been added (you should start and end with the flour).  Pour the batter into the prepared pans (it’s going to be fairly thick).

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the center is set.  After removing from the oven, take the cakes out of their pans and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.  Once the cakes are cool, poke them all over with a toothpick.  Mix vanilla extract with one tablespoon of water, then brush all three layers of cake with the mixture using a pastry brush.

If you’re making the cake more than a day in advance, wrap each layer individually in plastic wrap and freeze.

For the Filling:

2 lbs ricotta cheese

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

2 ½  tbsp vanilla extract

3 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup heavy cream

In a large mixing bowl, beat together all ingredients excepted cream.  In a smaller bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form, then gently fold the cream into the ricotta mixture.  Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to construct the cake.

For the Frosting:

4 tbsp butter, softened

3 tbsp milk

1 ¾ cups confectioners sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups heavy cream

Mix together butter, milk, sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form.  Fold butter/sugar into whipped cream until combined.  Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to construct the cake.

To Assemble:

1 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 cannoli shells

Using a pastry bag or baggie with the corner cut out, pipe some of the filling into each cannoli shell.  Set aside.  Line the edges of your cake plate with waxed paper (cut four strips and lay them as close to the outside of the plate as possible while still allowing them to be partially under the cake).  Place one cake on the plate, cover with half of the filling (I didn’t use anywhere near half, but if it’ll fit, by all means do it).  Cover with another cake, then add the rest of the filling.  Place the last cake on top.  Frost the top and sides of the cake with the whipped cream frosting, then sprinkle the top with chopped chocolate.  Lay cannoli shells on top of the cake, pressing them into the icing slightly.

Refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to serve it – mine was fine overnight completely assembled.