Homemade Cannoli Recipe
Discover the art of making the perfect Homemade Cannoli with this easy-to-follow recipe. From the crispy, golden-brown homemade shells to the rich, creamy filling, every step is carefully explained. Whether you’re a seasoned baker or a beginner, this recipe is sure to produce the perfect cannoli every time. It’s like having an Italian bakery right in your own kitchen!
Do you like deep frying in your own kitchen? I do not. I kind of hate it — the splatter of oil, the smell that lingers for days. As a rule, I limit myself to one day of deep frying per year when I prep all the latkes for our annual Chrismukkah party.
So what on earth am I doing deep frying my own cannoli shells? Well, friends — I can’t resist a good baking challenge.
Back before Bunsen Burner Bakery existed, I had another blog. I mostly used it to discuss the trials and tribulations of grad school, but once a month I shared my latest “Daring Bakers” challenge.
Each month, a member selected a recipe and everyone completed it, often including their own twist. Back in 2009, one of the challenges was.. you guessed it.. homemade cannoli shells.
I love cannoli. Love cannoli. Every time we’re at an Italian restaurant or pastry shop, my father and I can’t resist splitting one. When my husband and I went to Boston to visit a friend, I tried every cannoli I could find in the North End.
So when cannoli came up as a monthly challenge, my love of cannoli won out over my hatred of frying. And so off I set, on a cannoli-frying journey.
These homemade cannoli? A+++. Perfectly crisp, with those beautiful little air bubbles. Silky smooth rich filling. Absolutely delicious. So if you’re willing to step outside of your comfort zone and try something different, get ready to make these picture-perfect cannolis. It’s so worth it.
Ingredients and Substitutions
For the Shells:
- Flour: Use all-purpose flour for the cannoli dough, weighed or properly measured.
- Sugar: Just a little – cannoli shells are more crispy than they are sweet. Most of the sweetness comes from the filling!
- Cocoa Powder: I always add just a little (1 teaspoon!) cocoa powder to my mixture. This helps with the classic golden brown color of fried cannoli shells.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon is traditionally added for flavor, but if you are not a fan, leave it out.
- Salt: This recipe is written for table or Morton kosher salt; adjust accordingly if using Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
- Olive Oil: Many cannoli recipes call for butter, but I prefer using olive oil in the dough. The dough is easier to roll out and you can mix the dough in a mixer, rather than having to cut cold butter into the flour.
- White Wine Vinegar: A little acid to add to the dough.
- Marsala: No Marsala wine? No problem! Use any sweet red or white wine, which helps provide hydration while limiting gluten development. If you don’t want to use alcohol, substitute in juice or even water, but add an extra tablespoon of white wine vinegar to relax the dough.
- Egg White: The egg white is used to help seal the dough together along the edges.
- Frying Oil: Cannoli are traditionally fried in lard. I don’t know about you, but I never have lard on hand! Instead, I prefer to fry in refined coconut oil. Vegetable shortening is another good option, or you can use plain vegetable or canola oil.
For the Filling:
- Ricotta: Use fresh, whole milk ricotta cheese for the best flavor and texture. Avoid using low-fat or part-skim ricotta, as they tend to be drier and less flavorful.
- Confectioners’ Sugar: We’ll sweeten the filling with confectioners’ sugar. If you prefer a sweeter filling, add more – or make a chocolate version by adding some cocoa powder.
- Vanilla Extract: I always add a little vanilla extract to the ricotta filling, but play around with other flavors you like, such as almond extract or lemon extract.
- Chocolate Chips: These are optional, but I like decorating the edges of the cannoli with chocolate chips. You could also use chopped nuts, zested or candied citrus peels, or a dusting of cocoa powder.
Frying Cannoli Shells
Yes, you can buy pre-made cannoli shells (and if you’d like to do this, you can find a perfect filling to use below!). But if you’re up for an adventure, making cannoli shells at home is a fun adventure. Plus, you can customize the flavor and texture just the way you like it!
To make the shells, we’ll make an easy dough in a mixer. Let the dough rest (2 hours or up to overnight), then roll the dough out and cut it into circles. There are two ways we can do this: using a rolling pin (which you probably already have on hand) or using a pasta roller (easier and more uniform thickness, but you may not already have one). Shape the dough around the cannoli form, seal the dough with some egg white, and set it aside to dry for a few minutes.
Now we’re ready for the exciting part: the frying! The single most important tip for frying: make sure the oil is hot enough for adding in the shells. If the oil is not sufficiently hot, the shells will turn out soggy and greasy, rather than crispy! This happens if the oil is not hot enough to start, or if too many shells are placed in the oil at once, causing the temperature to drop.
Why does this happen? We can answer it all with my favorite subject… kitchen chemistry!
When food is fried at the proper temperature, it immediately starts to bubble. This is caused by the water droplets in the food, which change from water to steam and are suddenly expulsed outwards into the oil. We need this high temperature to remove the water and dehydrate the food to achieve a crispy texture.
Creamy Ricotta Filling
Now that we have our perfectly crispy homemade cannoli shells, it’s time to fill them! There are lots of options for filling shells – including mascarpone and whipped cream fillings, but classic ricotta will always be number one in my mind!
We want to make sure our ricotta is fully strained first – extra moisture will make the shells soggy! I like to let the ricotta sit overnight in cheesecloth to make sure all the extra liquid has plenty of time to drip out.
This is a pretty traditional ricotta filling recipe, but it’s the perfect chance to play around with flavors. If you like yours sweeter, add additional confectioners’ sugar. A tablespoon of cocoa powder will make a chocolate filling, while a few drops of lemon extract and some lemon zest will create a lemon filling.
I love to add some miniature chocolate chips to the ends of my cannoli, but if you’re not a chocolate fan, try using chopped pistachios or candied orange peel!
While this filling can be made ahead of time (and the shells can be made ahead of time), the lifespan of the two together is pretty short, so wait until just before serving to fill the cannoli. The best way to do this is by using a piping bag with a long tip and squeezing the filling into the shell, first from one side to the middle and then the other side.
Recommended Tools to Make Homemade Cannoli
- Cheesecloth: Line a strainer with cheesecloth and it let it sit overnight to remove excess moisture from the ricotta.
- Colander: The ricotta in the cheesecloth will be set in a colander to allow the moisture to drain out.
- Mixing Bowls: My favorite set of mixing bowls, which stack and are dishwasher and microwave-safe.
- Stand Mixer: You can use either a stand mixer like this or a hand mixer to whip the ricotta filling.
- Rolling Pin: My absolute favorite rolling pin, which ensures your dough will always be the exact thickness you need.
- Pasta Roller: It’s even easier to use a pasta roller to get the dough smooth and thin. Since I have a KitchenAid stand mixer, I love their matching attachment.
- Round Cookie Cutters: A set of round cookie or biscuit cutters ensures you always have just the size you need.
- Cannoli Tubes: Use a set of these oblong metal tubes to form your cannoli shells.
- Instant Read Thermometer: Use an instant-read thermometer to ensure your oil is at the right temperature for frying.
- Cooling Rack: Transfer the hot cannoli shells to cooling racks. This three-tier set is my favorite because it’s stackable but folds flat for storage.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Homemade Cannoli
- Let the dough rest for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight, before rolling it out. This helps the gluten relax and makes the rolling process much easier.
- Roll the shells to 1/8th-inch thick. If the dough is too thick, the shells won’t get the characteristic blisters on the outside, but if the dough is too thin, the shells will be too fragile and may break during frying.
- Don’t overcrowd the pan! If there are too many shells frying at once, the temperature of the oil will drop, which will result in soggy shells.
- Drain the ricotta before making the filling. Fresh ricotta has excess liquid which will result in a wet and runny filling.
- Both the shells and the ricotta can be prepared up to two days in advance. Store the shells at room temperature and the ricotta in the refrigerator. Wait to fill the shells until just before serving to prevent the shells from getting soggy.
More Italian Dessert Recipes:
For the Shells:
- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons (42 grams) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup (59 grams) Marsala or other sweet red or white wine
- 1 egg white
- 2 quarts coconut oil, vegetable shortening, or vegetable oil, for frying
For the Filling:
- 2 pounds (32 ounces) ricotta cheese
- 1 2/3 cups (160 grams) confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
- Start by preparing the ricotta filling. Line a strainer or colander with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and a towel, pressing down to touch the surface of the ricotta. Weigh down the towel with a heavy can and allow the ricotta to drain overnight in the refrigerator.
- To make the dough for the shells, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed until well combined. Gently mix in the oil and vinegar, and just enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to overnight.
- Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until very thin, no more than 1/8” thick using a rolling pin or using a pasta roller. To use a pasta roller, divide the dough into four pieces. Dust each piece with flour and run through the thickest setting of the pasta roller. Continue to pass through thinner settings until the dough is thin enough to see your hand through. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Once the dough has been rolled out, use a cookie cutter to cut 4 to 5-inch circles from the dough. Use the rolling pin to roll each circle into a slight oval.
- Oil the outside of the cannoli forms. Roll the dough oval from the long side around each form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. Press well to seal. Set aside to allow the egg white to dry.
- In a deep, heavy saucepan, pour 3” of oil. Heat the oil to 375 °F. Carefully lower a few cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so they will brown evenly. Lift a cannoli form with a slotted spoon out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli form at one end. Very carefully, remove the cannoli form with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the form on paper towels to drain. While still hot, grasp the form with a potholder and pull the cannoli off the form with a pair of tongs. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on a cooling rack until ready to fill.
- While the cannoli shells cool, finish preparing the filling. Using an electric mixer, beat the ricotta until smooth and creamy. Add in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract. Chill for 30 minutes, or until firm.
- Add the filling mixture to a pastry bag with a long tip and squeeze the filling into the cannoli shells. Add miniature chocolate chips to the ends. Dust with additional confectioners' sugar.
- Letting the dough rest for the full 2 hours helps the gluten relax and makes the rolling process much easier.
- Roll the shells to 1/16th to 1/8th-inch thick. Too thin and the shells may break during frying, but too thick and the shells won't blister.
- Make sure the oil is sufficiently hot before adding the shells and don't overcrowd the pan, which will lower the temperature of the oil.
- Both the shells and the ricotta can be prepared in advance. Store the shells at room temperature and the ricotta in the refrigerator. Wait to fill the shells until just before serving to prevent the shells from getting soggy.