My family just returned from 3-1/2 weeks in Japan. I am so happy to have them home. I was unable to go with them so, while I had a lot of quiet evenings alone, I kept myself busy in the kitchen. I do most of the cooking but there are a few cooking tasks I leave to my husband and one of them is cheese making. He is the cheese maker in the family because he is more patient than me and does not mind standing in front of the stove for 45 minutes to an hour stirring a pot of milk. He has made ricotta cheese a variety of ways using lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid. I have come across several recipes recently using milk and buttermilk, a combination my husband has not tried. I decided to make ricotta myself and, much to my surprise and even though there are several steps to the recipe, I could busy myself with other things in the kitchen while the milk heated, stirring every five minutes or so for a half an hour until the milk reached 180 degrees (it actually began curdling at 160 degree). It was much easier than I expected and so good and fresh-tasting compared to the grocery store variety. I let it rest for 20 minutes before straining the curds, then drained it for 1 hour and 20 minutes in a cheesecloth-lined salad spinner. The cheese was quite dry. If you want it more moist, drain for fifteen minutes to half an hour.
Drier ricotta makes the perfect base for cannoli filling. When I was growing up our favorite pastry shop was (and still is) D’Anna’s in Garfield, New Jersey. I love their cannolis and every time I go home that is one of my first stops. I have tried making my own cannoli filling from grocery store ricotta but, no matter how long I drained the cheese, I could never get the creamy consistency of the pastry shop filling. I finally asked a professional baker how they got such creamy filling and
I was told that pastry shops use a dry, high quality ricotta called impastata for cannoli filling. This homemade ricotta approximates impastata and mixed with heavy cream, sugar, and flavoring makes a lovely cannoli cream. Below are photos of the ricotta cheese, the cannoli cream on its own, and cannoli cream topped with fresh blueberries and blackberries.
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
1 gallon whole milk
1 quart buttermilk
Line a colander or salad spinner with a double layer of cheesecloth and set aside. Combine milk and buttermilk in a heavy bottomed pot (I used an 8 quart All Clad stockpot). Stir to mix. Place a candy thermometer on the side of the pot. Turn heat to medium and let the milk heat to 180 degrees, stirring every five minutes, scraping the bottom to prevent sticking or scorching. It should take approximately 30 minutes. The curds begin to form at 160 degrees. Remove pot from the heat and let rest 15-20 minutes. Drain curds a little at a time into the cheesecloth and let drain for 1 hour 20 minutes for dry cheese, 20-30 minutes for moist cheese. The cheese can be hydrated with some heavy cream for a moister and creamier consistency. Makes 3-1/2 to 4 cups.
Cannoli Cream (adapted from my mother’s recipe)
1 c. homemade ricotta (from above recipe)
3/4 c. heavy cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 drops cinnamon oil
2 drops La Torinese brand Crema di Cacao imitation flavoring (order from fantes.com), or cocoa powder to taste
In a food processor combine ricotta and heavy cream and pulse until smooth and creamy. It will be thick. Add both sugars and pulse to combine. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust flavoring to suit. Makes about 1-1/2 to 2 cups.