Rosetta Costantino gives the best directions for making cannoli at home that we have ever come across. Every step is explained in detail ensuring excellent results. We know you will have success with this recipe from Southern Italian Desserts and a whole lot of fun, too.
Cannoli are found all over Sicily, but my favorite are the ones found in and around Palermo. As with many Italian dishes, there is much debate about the dessert’s origin, with most lore focused on Carnevale and the sweet treats created in convents. The name cannolo (singular of cannoli) is likely derived from the Italian word canne, the giant bamboo, Arundo donax, which grows wild all over Italy. Separated by joints about every 8 inches, the reeds make perfect forms for frying the shells. I still use my traditional canne forms, but the forms made from tin or stainless steel you are likely to find at your local cookware store work equally well.
You will find cannoli variations all over Sicily, with most of the differences in the filling. Across the island, you will find it with cinnamon or various candied fruits in the filling. There are also variations in the decoration of the finished cannoli: they might come with candied orange peel in Palermo, or the ends might be studded with a cherry or dipped in chopped chocolate or the local pistachios in Bronte. The simplest filling—and my favorite—is the one found in Palermo.
The crispy, blistered shells are created with the addition of either vinegar or Marsala wine to the cannoli dough—sometimes both. The recipe comes from a cousin of my mother-in-law, who worked at Caflisch, Palermo’s original Swiss pastry shop, in the 1950s and ‘60s. I’ve substituted butter for the strutto (lard) and made some minor adjustments to produce cannoli that are even better than the ones I remember in Sicily. Using a pasta machine is the best way to roll the dough. The dough may be made ahead and frozen, well wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 months; thaw overnight in the refrigerator before rolling.
For more help on making great cannoli, see this Tip.
Reprinted with permission from Southern Italian Desserts by Rosetta Costantino with Jennie Schacht (Ten Speed Press, © 2013). Photo Credit: Sara Remington.
- 1¾ cups (231 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- ¼ cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) Marsala wine, plus a few drops more, if needed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 large egg white, lightly beaten, for sealing the shells
- Safflower or other neutral-tasting vegetable oil, for frying
- 4 cups (907 g) fresh ricotta, well drained
- 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup (85 g) semisweet or dark mini chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
- Confectioners’ sugar, to finish
- Strips of candied orange peel, about 2 inches x ¼ inch (optional)
- To make the shells, stir together the flour, granulated sugar and cocoa in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the vinegar, Marsala and melted butter. Begin mixing with a fork to combine, then continue mixing with your hands to form a shaggy dough. Knead for a minute or two to allow the dough to absorb all of the flour. The dough will be stiff, but if it is too difficult to handle, add a few additional drops of Marsala to bring the dough together.
- Knead the dough on a flat surface for several minutes, pressing it away with the heel of your hand, until it is nearly smooth. It should have the texture of pasta dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 2 days.
- Divide the dough into four pieces and flatten one piece with the palm of your hand. (Keep the remaining dough covered with plastic.) Roll the dough piece using a pasta machine: Run it through at the widest setting, fold the sheet in half and roll again at the same setting. Adjust the machine to the next narrower setting and repeat. Continue rolling and adjusting the machine until the dough is 1/16-inch thick and about 2 feet long by 4 to 5 inches wide. (Alternatively, roll the dough on a flat surface using a rolling pin to make a large round about 1/16 inch thick. You may need to let the dough rest periodically, as it is very elastic.) Cover the dough sheet with plastic wrap and continue rolling the remaining three dough balls, one at a time, until they have all been rolled.
- Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, heavy pot (about 8 inches in diameter and 4 inches deep) over medium heat until it reaches 350˚F (117˚C). Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
- While the oil heats, cut all of the rolled dough pieces into ovals that are approximately 5 inches by 4 inches. Reroll the remaining dough to form additional cannoli shells.
- Center a cannoli form over one of the dough ovals running the long way. Wrap one short end up and over the form, pressing it lightly onto the form. Dab the dough lightly with egg white, then wrap the other short end over it, overlapping the two by about ¾ inch, pressing them firmly together. Other than where the dough overlaps, let the dough hang loose rather than pressing it onto the form.
- Fry the shells, still wrapped around the forms, one at a time, taking care not to splash the oil as you gently slide them in. As it sits in the oil, turn the shell constantly with tongs for even cooking. After about 30 seconds, use tongs to carefully slide the shell off of the form (set the form aside to cool), then use the tongs to gently and completely submerge the shell, allowing the inside to cook. The shell is ready when its surface is blistered, and it is a shade or two darker than when you began, but not dark brown, about 60 to 90 seconds altogether. Allow the oil to drip back into the pot before transferring the shell to the baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain and cool. Fry the remaining shells in the same manner, allowing the forms to cool before reusing them.
- Let the cannoli shells cool completely before filling them.
- To make the filling, press the ricotta through an ultrafine-mesh strainer or splatter screen into a large bowl. Use a spatula to stir in the granulated sugar and vanilla until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- To finish the cannoli, gently stir the chocolate chips into the ricotta filling. Fit a pastry bag with a large plain tip and fill with the ricotta mixture. Squeeze the filling into the two open sides of a cannolo shell so that it meets in the middle. (Alternatively, use a teaspoon to fill the shell from both ends, pushing some down into the middle.) Continue to fill the remaining shells.
- Dust the filled cannoli generously with confectioners’ sugar. If you wish to serve them as in Palermo, center a piece of candied orange peel on each cannolo. Serve immediately.