cannoli siciliani recipe by giuseppe dell'anno


Cannoli Siciliani

Sicilian Cannoli

The most popular dessert of Sicilian baking




For the shells

  • 250g (9oz/) soft wheat 00 flour
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 20g (¾oz) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 30g (1oz/2 tbsp) lard or unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 large egg, 30g (1oz) for the pastry, the rest for brushing
  • 60g (2¼oz/4 tbsp) dry Marsala wine
  • zest of 1 organic orange
  • ½ tbsp wine vinegar


For the cream filling

  • 800g (1lb 12oz/3½ cups) ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk
  • 100g (3½oz/generous ½ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • zest of 1 organic orange
  • 40g (1½oz/1/3 cup) citron candied peel, finely diced (no bigger than 5mm/¼in)
  • 40g (1½oz/1/3 cup) orange candied peel, finely diced (no bigger than 5mm/¼in)


For the assembly

  • 50g (1¾oz/1/3 cup) chopped pistachio

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Cannoli are undoubtedly the most popular dessert of Sicilian baking. Their name derives from the canes (canne in Italian) that were used to mould the shape of the pastry shells. Cannoli are a very old dessert, certainly centuries old, although some historians place their date of birth over one thousand years ago!

Regardless of age, cannoli are a simple yet glorious triumph of flavours. The thin, crispy shell is made with soft wheat flour and lard and flavoured with Marsala wine, orange zest and cinnamon, while the filling is a simple mix of ricotta, sugar and candied citrus peel. The overall amount of sugar is surprisingly small, leaving the delicate flavours centre stage.

Traditionally, cannoli are made exclusively with sifted, artisanal sheep’s milk ricotta. This is getting harder and harder to get hold of, so if you are not one of the lucky ones that can source it easily, you can use conventional cow’s milk ricotta instead. The result may not be as good or in line with the purists’ view, but it is still utterly delicious and absolutely worth the calories!

This recipe is not particularly complicated, but a few pieces of equipment are needed: crucially, a pasta maker is essential to roll the dough consistently to the required thickness, and a set of 12 cannoli moulds is indispensable to hold the shape of the shells in the frier. Cannoli moulds are easily available online or in specialist shops and they consist of open, stainless-steel tubes, typically with a diameter of about 2.5cm (1in).

You can prepare the dough up to a couple of days in advance and store it in the fridge, wrapped in cling film until needed. The dough can also be frozen.

For the shells to retain their crispy, almost flaky texture, cannoli must be filled at the very last minute. In fact, if you buy them in Sicily, unless you are eating them on the spot, you will be served a set of empty shells and a bowl of filling, so you can fill them at home.


  1. The day before making cannoli, place the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl to drain off any excess liquid.

Make the dough

  1. Place the flour in a large bowl and sift in the cocoa. Add the sugar, cinnamon and salt and mix with a spoon until fully combined. Dice the lard and add it to the flour mixture. Work the mixture by pinching the pieces of lard with the tips of your fingers to break them into very small lumps, fully coated in flour. Keep working the mixture quickly until the lard is finely dispersed into the flour and no more clumps are visible.
  2. Beat the egg in a small bowl and add 30g (1oz) of the beaten egg to the flour mixture. Retain the rest for sealing the shells later. Add the Marsala, orange zest and vinegar to the mixture and work it in the bowl with your hands. Once all the liquids have been absorbed by the dry mixture, turn it on to the worktop and knead it until all the flour has been incorporated into a smooth and homogeneous dough. The mixture is quite dry, and it requires vigorous kneading for a few minutes before all dry ingredients are incorporated. This will create a rather elastic dough which will need resting before being rolled thin. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or a couple of hours if possible.

Make the cream filling

  1. While the dough rests, prepare the filling: once drained, shop-bought ricotta can be used as is, artisanal sheep’s milk ricotta will need sieving. This can be done by pushing it through the mesh of a strainer with the back of a spoon. Place the ricotta in a large bowl and whisk it with a handheld electric whisk until creamy. Add the sugar, vanilla, orange zest and whisk again to combine. Fold in the candied peels.
  2. Transfer the cream to a piping bag with a plain 1.5cm (5/8in) diameter nozzle. Pinch the tip and the back of the bag closed with a plastic clip and store it in the fridge until needed.

Fry the shells and assemble

  1. Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap it and divide it into 4 roughly equal pieces. Flatten one piece with your fingers, then pass it through the rollers of a pasta maker on the widest setting. Fold the pastry in half, turn it 90° and pass it through the pasta maker on the same setting. Repeat the folding and rolling at least three more times. You will notice that throughout this process the appearance and texture of the dough will change significantly: it will look finer and smoother after each passage. Repeat with the remaining pieces of pastry.
  2. Now start laminating the pastry to the required thickness: reduce the gap in the pasta maker rollers by one step and pass the pastry through them once more. Work progressively by reducing the gap and rolling the pastry until it is no more than 1mm (1/32in) thick. This is usually the thinnest setting on the pasta maker.
  3. Using a 12cm (4½in) round pastry cutter, cut 12 discs of dough – 3 from each strip. If such a large pastry cutter is not available, you can also cut the pastry into 12cm (4½in) squares instead. Wrap each disc around a cannoli mould, sealing the overlapping edges together with a dab of egg wash, leftover from the dough. Pinch the dough firmly against the moulds with your thumbs to seal the shells closed. If you cut squares, rather than circles, wrap them around the moulds so that opposite corners overlap. Do not wrap the dough around the moulds too tightly but leave enough room for it to swell while frying. If the dough is too tightly wrapped around the moulds, the shells are more likely to tear open in the fryer.
  4. Set the oil temperature in the fryer to 180°C (350°F) or use a pan large enough to accommodate comfortably at least 2 cannoli shells and fill it with at least 8–10cm (3¼–4in) of oil. Place it over a medium heat, controlling the temperature with a cooking thermometer. While the oil heats up, line a cooling rack with 2 layers of kitchen paper, and place it next to the fryer.
  5. Fry each shell for no more than 1 minute, turning it over frequently with heatproof tongs or holding it into the oil with a slotted spoon for a few seconds to cook it evenly. Rest the shells on the kitchen paper and remove the cannoli moulds as soon as they are cool enough to handle.
  6. When you are ready to serve the cannoli, place the pistachio kernels on a dessert plate or a small bowl. Pipe the cream into both ends of the cannoli, making sure that they are completely filled. Dip each end in the pistachio kernels to coat the cream fully. Arrange on the serving plate and lightly dust the lot with icing sugar. Store in the fridge for up to a day.

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