Cannoli Cupcake | FoodLovesWriting.com

When I was a kid, my parents would dart around the house in the final moments before company arrived, lighting candles, cleaning bathrooms, setting appetizers out just right. You could feel the energy in the air in those almost-game-time minutes—a sort of nervous, happy energy—something greater than the sound of my mom’s boom box playing its background harps or violins. When the doorbell rang, my dad would rush to the door, opening it proudly, beaming, welcoming guests inside as he took their coats and greeted them, motioning my brother and me to come say hi. Then, my mom would emerge from the kitchen, winded but obviously delighted at whatever was in her hands, prompting oohs and ahs and questions from the ones who’d been invited to come. Each one meal and its accompanying conversation would take two or three—maybe four or five with particularly talkative friends—hours before dishes were being cleared and the food getting wrapped up and people’s coats being pulled back out to usher them to their cars. But, as any host could tell you, its planning began long before, sometimes as much as a month ahead of time. Long before the good china was on the dining room table, I’d see my mom jotting down a potential menu and shopping list; I’d be around when she tested recipes before deciding to serve them to company; I’d be there the week of the dinner, when my parents talked about what they were making and at what time guests would arrive.

As an adult myself, I’ve followed my parents’ footsteps, often clumsily, feeling my way from the early days of solo hosting (where, once, my guest and I continued working on the uncooked chicken together after she arrived), to my current stage of couple hosting (where Tim and I tag-team the process).

Over time, I’ve grown more confident. Having one person for dinner isn’t stressful; having two is usually okay; but, last weekend, when we hosted Tim’s entire family for an early celebration of Easter and the annual April birthdays (of which, in his family, there are four), and we had ten people at our table more than once, I have to admit the experience felt completely new.

Cannoli Cupcake | FoodLovesWriting.com

Weeks beforehand, we planned menus. Next was grocery lists. A full week ahead of time, I was baking and freezing cupcakes, cooking and freezing lamb stew. And from estimating food needs (how much do 10 people eat?) to wondering about expectations (will we disappoint our family?) to cleaning (which, regrettably, often gets put off until just such an occasion, when you know company’s coming), I thought to myself more than once, this is not easy. As much as I love those beautiful Kinfolk dinner parties and glossy Martha Stewart magazines, let’s just be real: hosting people is work.

Over the course of the three days we had family in town, our sink saw more dishes than it typically sees in a full week. I woke up in the middle of the night wondering if I’d given the stew enough time to thaw in the fridge (no, if you’re curious). Tim and I filled three huge pots with stew and served it to eight other people, alongside salad and sliced bread and fruit. We pulled out dozens of cannoli cupcakes, three kinds of Tim’s homemade ice cream, einkorn walnut cookies and coconut macaroons. We exchanged presents. We had a family photo shoot. We went thrift-shopping with my sister-in-law. We hit the Nashville Flea.

Cannoli Cupcake | FoodLovesWriting.com

Cannoli Cupcake | FoodLovesWriting.com

And at the end of the weekend, after all of that preparation, with a sink still filled with dishes and a once-stuffed fridge once again empty and ready to be filled, we realized the thing about hosting that keeps people doing it again and again, the thing I, in the innocence of childhood, probably realized about hosting way before I realized how much effort it takes.

Because, while planning meals and making them, buying groceries and using them to feed others, sitting around a table filled with people you call family, sharing the fruit of weeks of effort and some stress is genuine work, it is also this, and don’t discount it: such enjoyment and pleasure and fun. This past weekend, we tasted the reality that it is such a gift to get to give to other people; it is so rewarding to spend yourself for someone other than yourself. And, also, it is such a gift to have them let you. We’re glad we could.




Cannoli Cupcakes
Makes between 20 and 24 cupcakes
Filling adapted from Beantown Baker

So here’s the idea for these cannoli cupcakes: the filling typically inside a cannoli shell, stuffed inside and on top of yellow cupcakes, with chopped pistachios scattered on top. You guys. They remind me of my grandma and they’re a near cousin to a ricotta cake symbolic of April birthdays in Tim’s family. Mostly though, they’re sweet (but not too sweet), a throw-back to Italian bakeries and a real show-stopper in terms of visual and taste appeal.

If you want to make them ahead of time: The cupcakes themselves may be baked ahead of time and frozen, so long as they’re thawed a day before frosting/serving. It’s best to frost them the day you want to serve them, but keep in mind the ricotta filling must be strained overnight, so you’ll want to start that the day before.

*You’ll note I ground the sugar in a food processor for both the cupcakes and the ricotta filling; this is to give it a lighter consistency, one more akin to powdered sugar.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups coconut sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups einkorn flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup water (In my three batches this month, I’ve made the cupcakes with and without water, all with good results, so this may be omitted if you like.)

for the filling:
32 ounces ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups coconut sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 a 3.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate, chopped finely
The zest of one lemon

+ chopped pistachios, for topping

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease or line two 12-cup muffin pans with liners, and set aside.

Start by grinding the sugar in a food processor or high-powered blender*. Then, cream it with the softened butter and olive oil in a large bowl. Beat in the four eggs, one at a time, and add the vanilla.

Sift the flour into a separate, medium bowl, along with the baking powder and salt.

In a small bowl, combine milk, yogurt and water.

Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately to the butter-sugar mix. Mix well. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups.

Bake cupcakes for 25 to 35 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from muffin cups to another surface as soon as you can to prevent cake falling. Let cool completely before frosting. Note that I also like to remove the paper liners once they’re cooled.

to make the filling (begin the day before serving!):
Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

When ready to make the filling, grind up the sugar in a food processor or high-powered blender to get it to more of a powdery consistency. Then, using an electric mixer, beat the ricotta in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Add in the sugar you’ve processed in a food processor, the cinnamon and the vanilla, and blend until smooth. Stir in zest. Fold in the chopped chocolate. This mixture may be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours; or you may use it right away.

to fill the cupcakes:
To make holes in the cupcakes, cut a cone out of the top of each cupcake (these bits of cake may be eaten or saved for later)—a good explanation of this method is here, although I don’t bother putting the top of the cone back into the cupcake before frosting. Then, stuff the holes with the ricotta filling and spread more filling over the top like you would if you were frosting a cupcake. Sprinkle chopped pistachios on top for garnish and you’re set.

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 38 Comments

  1. Abby

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly how I feel about hosting people! It’s so rewarding to cook for other people and put thought into how you’re going to entertain them. But it’s hard, too, sometimes harder (in terms of preparation and also emotional involvement) than I’d like it to be. This sounds like an excellent gathering, though!

  2. Erin

    Oh I can so totally relate to this. I am having a shower at my house tonight and family easter lunch at my house on Sunday. And despite how much work it is (and will be this weekend) I know that in the end it will be worth it.

  3. Jacqui

    We’ve been entertaining a lot lately. Some friends stayed with us for a couple of days earlier this month, and then a dinner for 8 the next weekend, and on Wednesday, 10 coworkers came over after work for dinner, wine and crafts. Lots of prep work and shopping and worrying and of course I ended up cooking way too many potatoes that I’m still trying to dig my way out of via soups and hash browns. But the nice thing about hosting is that hey, the house is cleaner way more than usual! And I’ve learned not to stress about it because 1) no one wants to hang out with a stressed out host and 2) the people who come over don’t care about perfection, but rather, just good company. So it’s work, but it’s fun. Can’t wait to have you over again! :)

    1. Jacqui

      oh, also, cannoli cupcakes. I recently saw them at a cupcake shop and bought one for Murdo because he can never resist a cannoli, and he loved it! So I will have to try this recipe!

      1. Shanna Mallon

        Oh my goodness, you’re a hosting queen! Just reading those numbers made me feel the need to sit down, haha. You’re right, of course, that it’s about the good company and about showing love (although, I would argue, *not everyone* doesn’t care about perfection… there are those real times when you let someone down or, even, times when you go to someone’s house at it’s awkward or weird or uncomfortable)… but that in every case, we’re growing in our ability to make the main things the main things, whether guests or hosts… at least, I know I am. PS – first weekend in May. Get ready! We’re coming for a visit!

  4. sarah kate branine

    “As much as I love those beautiful Kinfolk dinner parties and glossy Martha Stewart magazines, let’s just be real: hosting people is work.” Ha! Yes! It looks so pretty in their magazines. How does it look so disastrous in my kitchen? Which, brings up another point concerning hosting, for me anyway. I always get frustrated because, by the time my guests arrive, my house is clean and my kitchen is a wreck : ) I need to get over myself.

    p.s. I’m thinking these should join us for Easter dinner. I’ll let you know. They look wonderful!

  5. Harriet

    Your timing of this post is spooky! I took advantage of my parents’ big house and had a dinner party for eight and all through the planning, prep, cooking and hosting stages I was thinking of my parents and the way they host which sounds so similar to your parents. I have learned some valuable lessons from watching my parents host dinner parties – more often than not it isn’t the fancy, brand spanking new recipes that guests remember, it’s the Wednesday night type of meals that we forget people will love…

  6. Rob Heijermans

    Man, Shanna–your house sounds just like ours! It’s a delightful way to live, isn’t it? When we moved to Atlanta, we were anxious to experience Southern Hospitality. We’re still wondering what that is! We found people were more interested in taking us out to Golden Corral than inviting us to their homes, and they were even hesitant to come to our house (presumably because they would be expected to reciprocate.) This was not always the case, of course–we have some dear friends with whom we’ve shared many happy hours and fabulous meals in either their homes or ours. And we’ve also enjoyed some great eateries in the area. But it’s heartening to see a young couple devoted to the pleasure of their guests.You guys should come up here for a visit! We’d have a blast.

  7. angela@spinachtiger

    You have me so curious about this Einkorn flour, I’m going to have to spring for it. So glad you got through the big number entertaining. Having stew ready to go seems genius to me. I started entertaining in highschool, but it’s a lot better having Doug to help me. Tim is priceless, but so are you. Happy Easter. What a glorious time and reason to celebrate. My blessings jar is already full and it’s only March, all because God is so good.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      1) I love that you started entertaining in high school. !!
      2) I so agree about our sweetheart husbands and how they make work easier. Such a gift!
      3) God IS so good. Yes.

      Happy Easter to you guys (and happy birthday to Doug!). (PS–Every time I type Doug, I want to type Dough, and that makes me laugh right now, haha.) : )

  8. Anna

    Oh my word. These look spectacular. I love love love cannoli but they’ve always been too intimidating for me to attempt. Putting them into cupcake form is genius. I love entertaining. It’s exhausting (and expensive sometimes!) but it’s how I show my love for people too and there’s nothing better than sitting around a table covered with food with your favourite people.

  9. Sue

    Those look delicious! I just made a cake from Beantown Baker’s blog- I’m sure these are so good! I always have to stop and remind myself how wonderful it is to host a meal and bless/serve others. It’s quite easy to just get stressed, but when I finally sit and enjoy sweet conversation, every second of prep is worth it!

  10. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen

    I find it immensely rewarding to cook for others, and fill so genuinely happy when they actually do appear at the door! My ideal home is always filled with friends and loved ones sharing time over food. But I hate to feel pressured, so I´ve learned through the years to do it in a way that is actually enjoyable for me too. I agree with you Shanna, it should be fun!

  11. Madison

    I, too, grew up with a mother that loved to entertain and host people and still does it exceedingly well. Two Thanksgivings ago she hosted our entire extended family of close to 25 people and went as far as to make the chicken stock for the stuffing homemade. But for the longest time, hosting and having people over has left me frazzled, stressed and overwhelmed at how to get the entire meal to the table on time (at the same time!) But as time has passed and I’ve entertained more and more, I’ve realized how great it can be and become much more at ease with the process. Joe and I frequently have friends over to eat dinner on the weeknights at least once each week and I can finally say it has become fun!

  12. Vicki

    First of all, words cannot express how excited I am to find a recipe for one of my favorite desserts (cannolli) in the form of another favorite dessert (cupcakes). Even though I’m not a good baker and I don’t own einkorn flour, I will give this a try! As for hosting, you hit the nail on the head that it does entail a lot of work but the rewards of bringing people together to share a meal, a conversation and later a memory of a great time is all worth it. As I prepare for my 9th Thanksgiving dinner later this year, I’m hoping to do more work ahead of time so my husband and I can actually spend more time with our guests rather than be in the kitchen. Or, maybe we’ll think of ways to get our guests more involved in the meal so we’re all in the kitchen. :)

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Vicki, I’m a big cannoli girl around here, too. For what it’s worth, you don’t have to use our einkorn recipe — just make your favorite yellow cake and follow the same idea. I would love to hear what you think!

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  14. Katie

    Love the picture you painted of your parents rushing around, lighting candles, making sure the music is on. It reminds me of Tim and I! I wish more people would have dinner parties – I think it’s something missing today.
    And sounds like you did a great job prepping for that many people for so long! Way to go.

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