Crisp flaky shells filled with sweet ricotta cream and sprinkled with chocolate chips are the perfect Sicilian dessert! The Italian carnival dish called cannoli are a treat to make at home!
A staple of Sicilian cuisine, the Cannoli are tube-shaped desserts that have a rather strange history. These tube-shaped desserts are made with a flaky dough of flour, eggs, butter, and marsala wine, and filled with a ricotta cheese and cream filling. They’re sometimes covered with chocolate chips, chopped nuts, or candied fruit.
Given what they look like, it’s no wonder that cannoli were once made only at Carnival time as a fertility symbol. But nowadays, cannoli or cannolu are now eaten all year round.
History of Italian Cannolis
A version of the cannoli may have existed in Italy from Roman times. The Roman historian and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero mentioned the cannoli in his literature dating 70 BC. He called the cannoli a “tubus farinarius, dulcissimo, edulio ex lacte factus” which is a tube made of flour and stuffed with a very sweet milk-based filling.
But the modern version of the cannoli originated in Caltanissetta, Sicily around 827-1091 AD during the Arab rule. At that time the city was known as Qalc’at al-Niss or the City of Women because the concubines of the Saracean emir lived in this city.
To occupy themselves or to attract the prince’s attention or to exalt his masculinity, the women of the harem created this pastry. Based on an Arabian recipe, the erotic cannoli stayed even when the harem left.
In the 11th century, when the Saraceans were forced out of Caltanissetta by the Normans, a few of the emirs concubines escaped and took refuge in the nunnery there. They taught the nuns the recipe and to preserve their heritage, this is how cannoli is made to this day.
Of course, another legend says that cannoli was created by a convent of nuns in Palermo or Messina as carnival food. To this day, cannoli is popular not only as lenten food but as a dessert any time of the year.
Did you know that in Sicily, when gifting cannoli to friends or relatives, they have to be given in multiples of 12 to denote the 12 months of the year? This is considered as a wish for prosperity and good luck. Any other number of cannoli and bad luck will follow!
Recipe Pointers For Recipe
- To prevent sogginess, you can make the scorza or tube in advance and fill it with the farcitura or filling just before serving.
- Also make sure to drain the excess water from the ricotta so that the filling doesn’t become soggy.
- If you have more time on your hands, let the dough rest for longer before frying. This will allow the wine in it to make it more flaky.
- You can also make the entire cannoli a day ahead and keep them in the refrigerator till you serve them.
- You can use bitter or milk chocolate chips for the cannoli.
- Or you can use chopped pistachio nuts, maraschino cherries, or candied cherries.
- For more flavor, add ground cinnamon, vanilla extract, or citrus zest to the filling.
- Or even add chocolate chips to the cream filling.
- Dust the cannoli with sifted sugar.
- Serve the cannoli with a sweet wine like marsala or moscato.
FAQs about Cannolis
What does cannoli mean?
Cannoli is derived from the word canna which means tube or cane, because the original cannoli were shaped using river canes.
How long should cannoli be made?
Cannoli are traditionally made between 9 cm (3.5 in) to 20 cm (7.9 in) in length.
Why use the air fryer?
Cannoli are traditionally deep-fried in oil, but to make them a tad healthier, we’re air frying them. If you prefer to deep fry, you can heat the oil to 360 F and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.
Can I buy pre-made cannoli shells?
Yes, you can buy pre-made cannoli shells online (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0085IL13E/) or at a few local stores.
Is cannoli filling mascarpone good?
Traditional cannoli are made using fresh ricotta cheese of sheep’s milk in Sicily and Southern Italy or cow’s milk ricotta in Northern Italy.
Italian chefs will tell you that mascarpone filling is not as tasty as the ricotta filling and is not recommended. But it is becoming a fad today, so use it if you prefer mascarpone to ricotta.
My filling is runny. Can I thicken it?
For the filling to become thicker, mix in some cashew cream or almond powder.
How long can I store these cream filled cannoli?
If stored in an airtight container, cannoli will last for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer. If you store them in the freezer, thaw in the refrigerator before serving. If you store them in the refrigerator, serve as is.
For the Shell
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar, (optional-- if you like a sweeter cannoli)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 egg yolk
- ¼ cup marsala wine
For the Filling
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup mini chocolate chips, optional
Make the Cannoli Dough
- Add the flour and butter to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas.
- Add the egg yolk and marsala wine and pulse until the dough comes together in a large ball.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge until ready to use.
Make the Filling
- Add the heavy whipping cream to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
- Whip on high speed until stiff peaks form.
- Add the ricotta, vanilla, and ground cinnamon and fold the ingredients together until they’re fully mixed.
- Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and set aside until ready to use.
Air Fry the Dough and Assemble
- Roll the cannoli dough out on a lightly floured surface until it’s ⅛-¼” thick.
- Cut out 3” circles from the dough and reroll and recut any scraps of dough.
- Roll the dough around a cannoli tube and place them in the air fryer.
- Cook at 400F for 5-7 minutes, or until the shells are crisp.
- Carefully remove the cannolis from the mold and set them on a wire rack to cool.
- Allow the cannoli tubes to cool fully before cooking the next
- Fill the fried cannolis with the ricotta mixture and dip the ends in the mini chocolate chips, if desired.
- Make sure to fill the cannolis just before serving so they don’t get soggy.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 260Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 65mgSodium: 137mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 1gSugar: 7gProtein: 8g