Here’s a fun fact: did you know that cannoli is plural, and canolo is the singular term? Most people know these delicious ricotta cream-filled fried pastry shells simply as cannoli, perhaps because it’s so hard to limit yourself to just one!
Photos via CakeSpy
What makes a good cannoli?
Cannoli are popular in Italian bakeries all over the world. In general, you can tell if a bakery is worthwhile if it only displays the shells. Cannoli should be “filled to order” so that the shells don’t get soggy before it’s time to snack.
Making cannoli at home can seem daunting, mostly because of the fried shells. But armed with the right equipment and a little time, making cannoli isn’t difficult at all. This recipe breaks it down into easy steps.
How to make cannoli
Makes 10 approximately 5″ long cannoli
For the shells:
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons Marsala wine (or white vinegar)
- 2-3 tablespoons cold water
- Enough oil to fill a large skillet 2″ deep, for frying
For the filling
- 15 ounces (1 container) whole milk ricotta cheese, chilled
- 1½ cups powdered sugar
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup chopped chocolate or mini chocolate chips
- Optional: crushed pistachios, additional chocolate chips or candied citrus, for garnish
- Powdered sugar, for dusting the finished cannoli
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, salt, olive oil, egg and wine (or vinegar). Mix briefly, then add the cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough is cohesive (you may not use all the water).
Mix for 3-5 minutes, or until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and has become smooth and elastic.
Form the dough into a disc and cover it with plastic wrap. Put it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or overnight. This resting period will help the dough roll out more easily later on.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to an approximately 1/8″ thickness. The round of dough will be a bit bigger than a rolled-out pie crust.
Using a 4″ round cutter (or the rim of a drinking glass or ramekin), cut out circles from the dough. Gather and re-roll the scraps to get a few more cutouts. You should be able to get about ten 4″ cutouts.
One at a time, form each circle of dough into an oval shape. Either stretching by hand or using your rolling pin for help, stretch the dough slightly up and down so that it becomes a 5″ long oval.
Pour the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, so that it is at least 2″ deep. Heat the oil until it registers between 350-375 F on an instant-read thermometer; adjust the heat as needed to keep it within these temperature zones as you fry.
Wrap the dough portions around cannoli forms or short wooden dowels. Really press the edges together, forming a seal. You can use an egg wash if the dough seems to have trouble sticking together.
Place the dough portions, seam side down, into the hot oil. If it’s your first time doing this, you might want to fry the first few units one at a time. Once you get used to the process, you can fry a few shells at a time.
Fry until golden on the seam side, then flip using tongs and fry the second side to match. This won’t take more than a few minutes, but rather than timing it, keep an eye on the oil temperature and the visual of the shells.
Gently remove from the hot oil, let the excess oil drip off, and then transfer to a wire rack. Let cool slightly before removing the forms. Continue frying all of the shells until done. Let cool to room temperature.
Make the cream filling. Strain excess liquid from the ricotta. Place the ricotta, powdered sugar and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Beat on low speed until completely combined. Then stir in the mini chocolate chips and mix briefly, until evenly dispersed. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a round tip large enough for the chocolate chips to fit through, or load it into a plastic freezer bag and cut off the tip of the bag for piping.
To fill the cannoli, insert the piping tip halfway into each shell, and pipe in filling and pull the tip outward as you pipe, so that the entire half is filled. Repeat on the second side (this ensures that you won’t have an empty spot in the middle — sacrilege!).
If desired, dip the ends in mini chocolate chips, crushed pistachios or candied citrus (not necessary, but pretty). Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Recipe notes + some troubleshooting tips
The key to cannoli-making success is investing in cannoli forms, which are heavy duty metal tubes that you can use to mold the dough and help it hold its shape during frying. They’re easy to find online.
If you don’t have a cannoli-specific form, you can use short wooden dowels with a diameter of ¾” – 1″. Just make sure they’re not too long, or you may have trouble fitting them in your pan!
The unfilled cannoli shells will keep for up to two weeks when covered and stored with slight ventilation at room temperature. The cream filling is best the same day made, but it can be made up to two days in advance. If any separation occurs (i.e, liquid forms), strain the cream filling before using.
Fill your cannoli to order
For best results, fill your cannoli directly before serving so that the shells remain crispy.
Help! My shells aren’t crispy enough
If your cannoli shells are not as crispy as you’d like, here’s a personal trick of mine. Place the shells back on the cannoli forms and heat in a 400 F oven for up to 10 minutes, then let cool to room temperature. Note, though, that you’ll need to use the shells immediately after they’ve cooled because they will become hard after this “toasting” step.
Help! My cannoli cream filling went flat
If you made your cannoli filling too far in advance, or if you overmix it, it can go flat. Don’t despair! Here’s another trick I’ve used: fold in ½ – 1 cup of unsweetened whipped cream into the cannoli cream, and it will usually revive it!
Have you ever made cannoli?