How to Make Cannoli—the Classic Sicilian Dessert

Cannoli
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Ratings (10)
  • Total: 2 hrs 15 mins
  • Prep: 45 mins
  • Cook: 90 mins
  • Yield: About 40 cannoli
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
329 Calories
10g Fat
57g Carbs
5g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: About 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 were 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.

  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.

  3. Add the sugar, cocoa, coffee, and cinnamon (if using) and work to combine.

  4. Gently mix in the eggs, Marsala, and vinegar and knead until you obtain a firm dough.

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

  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.) 

  7. Pour enough oil into a deep pot to fry 2 to 3 cannoli shells at a time. Begin heating the oil.

  8. Cut the dough into either 3 1/2-inch squares or 4-inch-diameter circles (either will work).

  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.

  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.)

  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.

  12. Drain the fried shells on a paper-towel-lined tray or platter. Repeat with remaining shells.

  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.

  14. While the shells are cooling, make the cannoli filling.

Make the Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  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.

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

Assemble the Cannoli

  1. Gather the ingredients.

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

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

  4. Arrange them on a serving tray and they're ready!

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.

Variations

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.