Today we are going to show you the authentic Italian cannoli recipe.
Cannoli is a traditional Sicilian pastry dessert. The Authentic cannoli recipe consists of a fried and crispy pastry shell – “cannolo” – stuffed with a creamy ricotta filling and chocolate chips.
They are then decorated with icing sugar and pistachios or candied fruit, which are sprinkled on top of the filling that comes out of the cannoli. A real feast!
Cannoli recipe dates back to the Arab domination of Sicily (827-1091).
It originated from the hands of nuns in a convent near Caltanissetta and was initially prepared for Carnival.
Soon it spread all over Italy and became the dessert to prepare for all occasions!
Today it’s known and appreciated all over the world and has become the symbol of traditional Sicilian pastry, along with Torta Caprese and almond cookies.
In the authentic cannoli recipe, the ricotta cream is made with sheep’s milk ricotta. Sheep’s milk ricotta is a common ingredient in Sicily. It’s less liquid than cow’s ricotta. If you use cow’s ricotta, be sure to strain it well before using.
Ricotta cream is also almost always enriched with pieces of chocolate. Of course, chocolate chips are optional, depending on taste. But we highly recommend them because with the ricotta they are terrific!
Finally, there is one important rule: cannoli must be filled at the last moment, just before serving, in order to enjoy all their crispness!
Here is the authentic Italian cannoli recipe, homemade just like in a pastry shop!
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How to Make Authentic Italian Cannoli Recipe At Home
- Prep Time: 1 Hour
- Cook Time: 10 Min
- Servings: 8 people or about 15 Cannoli
For the Cannoli Shells
- 200 g (about 1 1/2 cups) of all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
- 20 g (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) of softened lard or butter. The authentic recipe calls for lard, but you can just substitute it with butter
- 1 teaspoon of coffee powder. You can use instant coffee
- 35 g (4 1/2 tablespoons) of icing sugar. Don’t use granulated sugar, which is too heavy for the cannoli dough
- 1 teaspoon of fine salt
- 1 medium egg
- 50 ml (1/4 cup) of Marsala wine
- 2 liters (about 8 cups) of canola oil or peanut oil for frying
For the Cannoli Filling
- 500 g (1,1 pound) of ricotta. The authentic recipe calls for sheep’s milk ricotta because it’s drier. But you can also use the classic cow’s milk ricotta. Drain it well before use.
- 180 g (about 1 cup) of granulated sugar
- 60 g (1/2 cup) of dark chocolate chips
- chopped pistachios, candied cherries (or any other candied fruit you like) and icing sugar for decoration
Kitchen Tools You May Need to Make Cannoli
To make cannoli, you first need some kitchen bowls to hold the different ingredients and to knead the cannoli dough.
Then you will need a rolling pin to roll out the cannoli dough.
Once the dough is rolled out, you will need to cut out small discs of dough so you can use a 10 or 12 cm (4 or 5 inches) diameter pastry ring, or cups that are wide enough.
Now, the most important kitchen tools for making cannoli: the stainless steel cannoli tube. These tools are needed to make homemade cannoli from scratch.
Also check out this set of pastry tools for making not only cannoli, but also gelato cones and cannoncini.
If you don’t feel like or don’t have the time to make cannoli shells at home, you can always opt for these pre-made cannoli shells. They are pretty good!
How to Make Cannoli Shells from Scratch
Step 1) – Get ready with all the ingredients and start making Sicilian cannoli recipe by placing the flour in a large bowl.
Add the icing sugar, cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa powder, coffee powder and fine salt.
Mix with a wooden spoon, then add lard or butter (at room temperature), depending on what you have chosen as an ingredient.
Step 2) – Add the egg and stir, mixing the ingredients. Finally add the Marsala wine.
Step 3) – Now use your hands to knead the ingredients right in the bowl. When the dough forms a fairly compact ball, place it on the table and continue to knead for another 5 minutes.
Step 4) – When the dough is smooth and homogeneous, shape it into a loaf. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
Take the Sicilian cannoli dough out of the refrigerator and roll it out with a rolling pin until it’s about 3 mm (1/10 inch) thick. then cut it into discs using a 10 or 12 cm (4 or 5 inch) diameter pastry ring (or cup).
Gently remove the disc from the work surface.
Step 5) – Wrap the dough disk around the cannoli tube.
IMPORTANT TIP: Moisten the ends of the disk with a little cold water and press them together. This will seal the cannoli and prevent them from opening during cooking.
Prepare the cannoli shells and place them on a plate. Now let’s fry them!
Step 6) – Fry the cannoli in plenty of oil for a minute or two. When golden brown, remove from the oil, drain on paper towels and allow to cool. Remove the cannoli from the tubes.
Now that the cannoli shells are ready, let’s make the filling!
How to Make the Ricotta Filling for Cannoli
Step 7) – Strain the ricotta well (read the paragraph below “How do You Get the Water Out of Ricotta Cheese?”). Then place the ricotta in a bowl, add the sugar and mix.
PLEASE NOTE: the ricotta must be rather dry, that’s why sheep’s milk ricotta is preferred. You can also use cow’s milk ricotta, but it must be drained for at least 1 full day. Otherwise your cannoli filling will be too runny.
Step 8) – Now add the chocolate chips, mix well and store in the fridge till the moment to serve.
IMPORTANT: cannoli must be filled ONLY at the time of serving, this to prevent the shells from becoming too soft. If you want to have them already filled you will have to line the inside of the cannoli with a layer of chocolate.
So now it’s the time to fill our homemade cannoli. Let’s start with filling a pastry bag with the ricotta and chocolate filling. Take the cannoli (which in the meantime you have kept at room temperature) and fill them with cream with the help of the pastry bag.
How to Serve Cannoli
Step 9) – Finally decorate with chopped pistachios and candied fruit. Place the Sicilian cannoli in a serving dish, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve. The cannoli recipe wasn’t that hard to make after all!
How to Store Cannoli
We recommend that you fill the Sicilian cannoli just before you serve them.
The ricotta filling can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
You can store the cannoli shells, covered with a cloth, at room temperature for 4-5 days.
DO NOT store cannoli shells in the refrigerator and DO NOT freeze them. Humidity makes the shells too soft.
Can I Prepare the Cannoli a Few Days Ahead?
Sure you can! You can prepare the cannoli shells a few days in advance. Keep them at room temperature.
Make the cream filling and store in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days.
Fill the cannoli just before serving. This is important because the moisture in the cream will eventually wet the cannoli shells and make them mushy. We like them crunchy!
Sheep’s Ricotta or Cow’s Ricotta for Sicilian Cannoli Recipe?
The word “ricotta” comes from the Latin word “recostus”, which means “recooked” (It: ricotto). This technique for making ricotta is still used today, although some variations have been introduced.
At a temperature of about 80 to 95°C (176°F to 203°F), the whey proteins coagulate, retaining fats, minerals and lactose. They rise to the surface as white flakes. The white, soft layer is collected in small baskets and left to cool.
This process can be made from either cow’s milk or sheep’s milk.
Cow’s milk ricotta is creamier and has a delicate, soft, sweet flavor.
Sheep’s ricotta is more rustic on the palate, with a more intense flavor and strong vegetable and hay notes. It’s drier, less rich in liquid.
This is not only due to what the animal eats, but also to the fattier composition of sheep’s milk.
If you want to use ricotta to dress a pasta dish, both can work well, but for other preparations this is not always the case.
For recipes with more delicate flavors, use cow’s milk ricotta, which is ideal for cheesecakes or filled pies.
For traditional desserts in some areas of Italy, it is better to use sheep’s milk ricotta for a more authentic taste. Examples include Neapolitan pastiera and Sicilian cannoli.
In Sicily, cannoli are made with sheep’s ricotta
Of course, it’s not always possible to find sheep’s milk ricotta on the market.
We recommend that you always drain your cow’s milk ricotta before making cannoli. Even up to two days.
How do You Get the Water Out of Ricotta Cheese?
The best – though not the quickest – way to strain ricotta involves placing it in a fine-mesh strainer resting on a bowl that is high enough to catch the whey produced.
Cover with plastic wrap and transfer it to the refrigerator for at least a day. After about 24 hours the ricotta will be ready to use to make your cannoli filling.
If you want to make ricotta dry more quickly, place the ricotta in a very tightly woven, perfectly clean dishcloth. ‘Squeeze’ it over the kitchen sink so that as much serum as possible comes out.
How to Sift the Ricotta for a Creamier Cannoli Filling
Always sift the ricotta you are going to use for a filling to avoid lumps that are difficult to remove. The mixture will also be softer.
You need very few tools: a fine-mesh sieve, preferably one that is not rounded, and a flat spatula.
Crush the ricotta against the mesh of the sieve, helping yourself with the spatula. The resulting ricotta will be super creamy!
If you only have the classic rounded strainer, no problem: use a spoon to mash the ricotta. It will take a little longer, but you will get the job done.
Cannoli Recipe: Some Variations
As with most traditional desserts, the Sicilian cannoli recipe has seen many variations. Let’s take a look at the most famous ones.
Cannoli with Pistachio Cream
If you want to substitute ricotta cheese, you can try making cannoli with pistachio cream.
Just add pistachio cream and a pinch of cinnamon to the ricotta. Decorate with chopped pistachio.
This variation involves both the cannoli shells and the filling.
In fact, you can add extra unsweetened cocoa powder to create chocolate-flavored cannoli shells.
Or you can follow the classic cannoli recipe and fill them with a chocolate cream.
Just add dark chocolate melted in a bain-marie to the ingredients suggested for making ricotta cream.
Cannoli with Whipped Cream
This one is super easy. Mix some whipping cream with a little powdered sugar. Whip the cream and fill the cannoli.
Cannoli Recipe: Origins, History and Curiosities
There are many stories related to the origins of Sicilian cannoli, but the oldest traces its creation back to the period of Saracen domination in Sicily.
It’s said that the women of the harem of the ancient “Qal-at-al-nisa” (Caltanissetta), during the long absences of their husbands and to deceive the waiting, dedicated themselves to the preparation of processed foods and desserts.
They would have modified a pre-existing Arab dessert made of ricotta, almonds and honey, reworking it with an ancient Roman dessert that Cicero describes as consisting of a farinaceous tube filled with a very sweet milk-based food.
After the end of the Arab rule in Sicily, the harems disappeared and it’s not impossible that one of the favorites, converted to the Christian faith, retired to the monasteries, bringing with them the recipes prepared in the courts of the emirs.
Thus, according to tradition, the Sicilian cannoli was one of the recipes handed down by Muslim women to Christian sisters, who began to make it only during the carnival season.
Where did the Name Cannoli Come From?
Some believe that its name comes from a carnival joke that consisted in letting the ricotta cream flow from the “cannolo” (a dialect term for a kind of faucet) instead of water.
Others say that the origin of the name cannoli comes from the canes around which the shells were rolled during preparation to give them their characteristic cylindrical shape.
What is certain is that the cannoli recipe, which was born in the town of Caltanissetta, has been spread all over Sicily by the pastry chefs of Palermo and Messina, who have refined its preparation using the best raw materials of their region: from the lightly sweetened sheep’s milk ricotta for the filling to the Bronte pistachio, Modica chocolate and Ribera candied orange peel for the decoration.
2 thoughts on “Authentic Italian Cannoli Recipe”
So happy to have found your site! I am definitely going to try making cannoli this weekend. What sets you above other blogs I follow (and why I confess spending hours reading your recipes) is the history and culture you provide with every recipe. This is wonderful please continue! I recently spent 2 weeks touring Italy and cannot wait to get back to visit Sicily. Thank you for the authentic recipes and enjoyable reading!
Grazie mille Linda!