How to Make Cannoli—the Classic Sicilian Dessert

Sicilian cannoli recipe

The Spruce / Katarina Zunic

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 90 mins
Resting Time: 30 mins
Total: 2 hrs 45 mins
Servings: 40 servings
Yield: 40 cannoli

The Italian dessert, known as cannoli, was once made only during Carnival time in Sicily, particularly in the areas of Palermo and Messina. These crisp tubes of golden-brown fried dough filled with a creamy ricotta, candied fruit, and chocolate filling have grown so popular that they are now made throughout the year throughout Italy and anywhere in the world where Sicilians have settled. The name, "cannolo," means "little tube." The singular is "cannolo" while the plural is "cannoli" for two or more.

The cannoli in Sicily are challenging to replicate; the original recipe calls for smoke-point fresh sheep's-milk ricotta, which can be difficult, if not impossible, to find outside of Sicily. If you can't find a truly high-quality fresh ricotta (look for one that has very few ingredients and without added stabilizers), you can make your own ricotta, and your results will be much better than if you use a store-bought cheese. You will need cannolo forms (or something equivalent) to form the shells.

Ingredients

For the Shells:

  • 4 1/3 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 1 pinch fine salt

  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

  • 5 tablespoons (60 grams) granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1 teaspoon ground espresso coffee

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional

  • 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten

  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons dry Marsala

  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

  • Lard, for frying 

  • 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

For the Filling:

  • 4 cups (993 grams) fresh ricotta cheese, drained

  • 4 1/3 cups (300 grams) starch-free confectioners' sugar

  • 3 drops pure vanilla extract, optional

  • 1 cup (200 gramscandied fruit, finely diced

  • 1 cup (150 grams) semisweet chocolate chips, plus more for optional decorations

Steps to Make It

Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this cannoli recipe is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation.

Make the Shells

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for cannoli shells
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  2. Place the flour and salt in a bowl and add the butter. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour.

    cut the butter into the flour
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  3. Add the sugar, cocoa, coffee, and cinnamon (if using) and work to combine.

    Add the sugar, cocoa, coffee, and cinnamon
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  4. Gently mix in the eggs, Marsala, and vinegar and knead until you obtain a firm dough.

    Gently mix in eggs
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  5. Cover the bowl with a cloth and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes, but no more than 2 hours. 

    Cover the bowl with a cloth
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  6. When the dough has rested, roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a very thin sheet, about 1/8-inch thick. (If you have a pasta machine, you can use it for this step, rolling the dough into several long, thin strips.) 

    Roll out the dough
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  7. Pour enough oil into a deep pot to fry 2 to 3 cannoli shells at a time. Begin heating the oil.

    Pour oil in a hot pot
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  8. Cut the dough into either 3 1/2-inch squares or 4-inch-diameter circles (either will work).

    Cut dough in circles
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  9. Roll the squares or circles around lightly greased cannolo forms. If you made squares, start with one point in the middle of the tube and roll around until the opposite point overlaps it. Brush the seam with lightly beaten egg whites to seal them.

    Roll up circles
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  10. When the oil reaches about 360 F, you are ready to start frying. (​If you are using metal forms, you can fry the dough while it is still on the form: just gently flare the edges out a bit at each end so that the oil can penetrate between the dough and the form. If you are using a DIY form, you'll need to gently slide your rolled shells off the form before frying.)

    Start frying
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  11. Fry the shells, 2 to 3 at a time (they should be floating) until they are a dark golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes. They should bubble up and blister a bit as they fry.

    Fry the shells
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  12. Drain the fried shells on a paper-towel-lined tray or platter. Repeat with remaining shells.

    Drain fried shells on paper towel
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  13. If you have fried them on the forms, once cooled enough to handle, carefully and gently slide the cannoli shells off of the metal forms and let shells cool.

    Take out metal forms
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  14. While the shells are cooling, make the cannoli filling.

Make the Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    cannoli filling ingredients
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  2. Push the well-drained ricotta through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl; use the back of a wooden spoon or the bottom of a ladle to push it through. Lightly beat the ricotta until it is light and airy.

    Push filling through sieve
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  3. Gently fold in the sugar. Add the vanilla extract, if using, and gently fold in the minced candied fruit and chocolate chips. 

    Gently fold in sugar
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Assemble the Cannoli

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Filling and shells
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  2. When the shells are cool enough to handle, spoon your filling into a pastry bag and squeeze filling into each shell.

    Fill the shells
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  3. Dip each end of each cannolo into chocolate chips, if desired, and gently dust the filled and decorated cannoli with confectioners' sugar.

    Dip each cannoli
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  4. Arrange them on a serving tray and they're ready!

    Sicilian cannolis
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic

Tips

  • To make the cannoli shells, you will need at least 1 (but preferably more) cannolo form—a hollow tube about 1 inch in diameter and 5 1/2 inches long. You can get them online, but you can also improvise and use whatever you happen to have in your home that is about the right size; it does not need to be hollow, either. Some cooks use a broom handle, sawed to the right lengths, or pieces of bamboo.
  • If you don't have a pastry bag (without a tip) to fill the cannoli, you can easily create a makeshift one by cutting one corner off of a plastic food storage bag and tying the other end shut after filling it with the ricotta cream. 
  • If you want to make the cannoli ahead of time, keep the filling separate and don't fill them until just before serving, to prevent the shells from getting soggy.

Recipe Variation

  • When making the shells, you can use lard or vegetable shortening instead of butter, and switch from Marsala to either a dry white wine or brandy.
  • If you prefer not to fry in lard, choose another neutral, high smoke point oil, such as peanut oil.
  • Instead of chocolate chips, dip each end into chopped pistachios.
  • You can also place half of a candied cherry on one end and a strip of candied orange peel on the other. The traditional ingredient for candied fruit in cannolis is zuccata, candied squash, or melon rind, but you can use candied orange or lemon peel, or any combination of the three, or omit this entirely and only use chocolate chips, if you prefer.

How to make crispy cannoli shells?

Your butter should be cold when making the dough and the oil should be at the correct temperature before frying the shells. This will help get those crispy, crunchy shells for your cannoli.