How to Make Cannoli—the Classic Sicilian Dessert

Sicilian cannoli recipe

The Spruce / Katarina Zunic

  • Total: 2 hrs 15 mins
  • Prep: 45 mins
  • Cook: 90 mins
  • Yield: 40 cannoli
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
329 Calories
10g Fat
57g Carbs
5g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 40 cannoli
Amount per serving
Calories 329
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 10g 13%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 41mg 14%
Sodium 128mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 57g 21%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Protein 5g
Calcium 88mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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 connolo forms (or something equivalent) to form the shells.

Ingredients

  • For the Shells:
  • 4 1/3 cups/500 grams all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of fine salt
  • 1/4 cup/60 grams unsalted butter (or lard or vegetable shortening, cut into pieces)
  • 5 tablespoons/60 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground espresso coffee
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • 2 medium eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons dry Marsala (or dry white wine or brandy)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • Lard for frying (or a neutral, high smoke point oil, such as peanut oil)
  • 2 egg whites (lightly beaten, for brushing the shells to seal them​) 
  • For the Filling:
  • 4 cups/993 grams fresh ricotta cheese (drained)
  • 4 1/3 cups/300 grams powdered sugar (the kind without starch)
  • Optional: few drops vanilla extract
  • About 1 cup/200 grams candied fruit (finely diced)
  • About 1 cup/150 grams semisweet chocolate chips (plus more for decorating, if desired)

Steps to Make It

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.

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

    Add cinnamon
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  4. Gently mix in the eggs, Marsala, and vinegar and knead until you obtain a firm dough.

    Gently mix in eggs
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  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
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  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
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  8. Cut the dough into either 3 1/2-inch squares or 4-inch-diameter circles (either will work).

    Cut dough in circles
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  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 390 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
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  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
    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.

    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
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  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
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic

Assemble the Cannoli

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Filling and shells
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  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
    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic
  3. Dip each end of each cannolo into chocolate chips, if desired, and gently dust the filled and decorated cannoli with powdered sugar.

    Dip each
    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.

Variation

  • You can make the cannoli as simple or as elaborate as you like. 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.