When it's your money, the only opinion that matters is yours. So we refunded her money and took the half eaten shell and filling she'd brought in. We knew it was ours because of the color and texture.
Rather than freak out, we took a look at possible causes for the excess "dryness". And it turns out she may have been onto something. For whatever reason earlier in the week somebody took it upon themselves to start packing cannoli filling into the pastry bags until they were virtually bursting. It was "more convenient than having to refill the bags all the time."
Hey, we're all for process when it improves the customer experience. But this didn't. The effect of increasing the cream volume in the pastry bags is that more cannoli cream gets exposed to the air, thus it dries out quicker. As we use a recipe that's drier than most to begin with, the result is probably something that's more like cannoli caulk than cannoli cream.
Up until now it's been our unwritten rule of thumb that no more than a cup goes into a pastry bag at a time. Now it's our written rule. Call it a learning experience.
There are two things we did take away from this encounter:
1) If a customer is disappointed enough to bring a half-consumed product back two days after buying it, that's a customer service situation worth heeding.
2) There is a wide defintion of what's acceptable in the world of cannoli.
We'll discuss (1) first since it's easy. Why give back a refund on a half eaten cannoli two days after the fact? Cannolis account for less than 2% of our business. Coffee and espresso is far more than half our volume and where we really earn our reputation - hopefully deservedly so. It would be an terrible thing to lose someone's coffee business over a dry cannoli - or anything else.
Will we have a chance to sell her something else? We hope so but we really don't know. But we do know that making an issue of it with the customer would certainly have closed that door.
Point (2) gets a bit more complicated. It's fruitless to argue over what a "proper" cannoli "is". This is one of those can't win situations. It's almost as fruitless as arguing about pizza (and don't get us started).
If you feel like wasting some time, we invite you to Google "Sicilian cannoli recipes". Take a look at a half dozen or more. Here's what you'll find:
For a 3 cup (3 lb) batch of cannoli cream, you'd use:
- 0 to 2 tsps vanilla
- 2oz to 1-1/2 cups grated bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup to 6-1/2 cups confectioners or fine sugar
- 0 to 1/4 cup cinnamon
- 8 tbsp orange zest to 1 cup citron plus or minus a couple tsps of orange blossom water
Any recipe that's within these ranges seems to be fair game for the label "traditional Sicilian cannoli". So much for standardization.
Now, all of these recipes may be legitmate. Obviously the creators think so. But are they all Sicilian? If you assume that they all originated at a time before phones, before cars, before refrigeration, then maybe two dozen different recipes all calling themselves "traditional" could develop on an island the size of Massachusetts.
The one constant is that Sicilians tend to add cinnamon to the mix. But the amount of vanilla, citron and especially sugar is all over the map. For our money, we're sticking by a little cinnamon, a few drops of vanilla and otherwise not too sweet in addition to being on the stiffer/richer side.
Most recipes call for commercial ricotta and overnight draining to lose the moisture. Early on we learned that's an imperfect science. Some batches we were getting were higher in moisture than others, which led to runny cream and fixes we'd rather avoid. So now we start with ricotta impastada and add whipping cream until we get the consistency we want. It's pretty much foolproof (unless someone on your staff decides to airdry the cream like it was beef jerky.)
We believe doing it this way gives our cream a richer, thicker texture similar to our opinion of a true Sicilian cannoli. But that's not going to work for someone who likes their cannoli creamier, or more airy. Based on this woman's comment, we're fixing our display procedures, but we're not going to try to copy Moio's fillings nor anybody else's for that matter. As Popeye would say, we am what we am.
Still the end product is tighter (less airy) than most other cannoli creams you'll find in Pittsburgh, although it is of a consistency you're likely to find in Boston's North End or in most of New York's boroughs.
Recently we also learned there's someone local selling "authentic Sicilian cannoli with goat cheese". Yeah. If all you have is a goat, you might try this. But one thing we do know definitively is that Sicilians make their ricotta with sheep's milk, not goat's milk. What we think this "chef" is talking about is cutting cow's milk ricotta with a little chevre to make it seem more like sheep's milk.
Getting sheep's milk ricotta in the US is possible, but not easy. And we'll admit, we don't use it at this point because surprisingly we haven't found a local source that doesn't use hormones. Getting sheeps milk ricotta shipped in from elsewhere is expensive because we'd only order small amounts at a time. Your $3.00 cannoli would be a $5.00 cannoli. And then you'd be REALLY pissed off if it wasn't the texture/sweetness with which you were familiar.
Some folks in Pittsburgh swear by Beto's and/or Vincent's pizza. Some folks (like those of us from Connecticut) think the pizza world begins at Frank Pepe's and ends at Sally's. Other folks (like those from Chicago) will defend to the death their pizza pot pies. And yet with the seemingly endless pizza options, Dominos and Pizza Hut and Vocelli keep growing.
If you look at it that way, we're simply one cannoli option among many. And we'll add that the Sicilians who come in enjoy our cannoli. Good enough for us.
It's a big world with lots to eat. There's a cannoli for everyone.
(Note: At the time of the original posting we were making our own fillings. As of November 15, 2006 we are using Vaccaro's ricotta and chocolate fillings. The primary reason for this is that we could not buy smaller quantities of the ricotta impastada we have been using and it does not freeze well. Also, we're spending a lot more time on soups now, making it difficult to invest the energy in making homemade cannoli fillings to the quality we desire.)