Inner west icon: Cannoli from Leichhardt's Mezzapica cakes

CRUNCHY GOODNESS: Andre Portelli, third-generation manager of his family's continental cake shop in Leichhardt, with a tray of cannoli. Picture: Geoff Jones
CRUNCHY GOODNESS: Andre Portelli, third-generation manager of his family's continental cake shop in Leichhardt, with a tray of cannoli. Picture: Geoff Jones

Andre Portelli reckons the cannoli they make daily at his family's Mezzapica Cakes shop in Leichhardt is the best outside Sicily, an opinion he declares is shared by many: "People say it all the time."

The recipe they use at Mezzapica came direct from Sicily, where the crunchy-shelled, ricotta-filled pastries were invented between 827 and 1091 AD either, so the stories go, by the concubines of the Arabian princes who ruled Sicily at the time, or by nuns to celebrate the pre-Lenten Carnevale festival.

It was brought southward by Andre's great-uncle Angelo Mezzapica. He had trained and worked as a pastry chef in Sicily before migrating to Australia in 1949 and opening his Continental Cake Shop on Norton Street - the heart of Sydney's "Little Italy" - in 1952.

Nearly 70 years later, the cannoli is still made by hand, the pastry rolled and deep fried - with a hint of liquor in the oil to make the characteristic bubbles - then filled with the original Sicilian mixture of fresh ricotta with choc chips and candied fruit pieces.

People will tell us that for every birthday for as long as they can remember, they had a Continental cake and cannoli from Mezzapica.

"We experimented with a rolling machine once, but the product never got to sale because it just wasn't as good," says third-generation manager Portelli.

Since 1952, other fillings have been added, so you can now also opt for chocolate, vanilla or hazelnut custard in your cannoli tube, which come in two sizes, but why would you have the small one? (For those wanting to share the love, there are also two sizes of giant cannoli cakes, with the larger a colossus of a tube filled with 46 large or 70 small cannoli.)

SWEETS OF AGES: Cannoli was invented in Sicily between 827 and 1091 AD.

SWEETS OF AGES: Cannoli was invented in Sicily between 827 and 1091 AD.

"People will tell us that for every birthday for as long as they can remember, they had a Continental cake and cannoli from Mezzapica," Portelli says.

People come from all over Sydney to buy the cannoli, which among an offering of dozens of styles of biscuits, pastries, tortes and cakes is Mezzapica's biggest seller - the team of dough mixers, shape stampers, rollers and fryers make thousands every week.

Portelli doesn't need to think long to explain the enduring popularity of the crispy, bubbly cylinders of sweet deliciousness: "They just taste bloody good," he says. "The other thing is, they are always fresh, we never sell a cannoli from the day before; because the shells go soft, and a big part of the enjoyment is that crunchy shell contrasted with the soft filling."

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