Cannolis - Fried Italian Specialties

Cannolis - they inspire both hunger and fear: hunger as they are crispy tubes filled with a sweetened cream filling, and fear as they have to be made and fried just right or else you'll end up with a hard, greasy shell. Cannolis are one of those desserts that whenever I make them at home, I have zero left over for the next day, no matter how many I fry up and fill. So what is a cannoli? It is a crisp, deep fried tube made out of a rolled dough generally filled with a cream filling made of sweetened ricotta.

Cannoli dough is often prepared with a wine (fortified or otherwise) to help with both flavor and color, and also provides the necessary acid to help soften the gluten. Once the dough is made, roll out thin, cut out, form around a cannoli tube or cream horn form, and deep fry. It sounds easy enough, and once you've made a few batches, rolling them out and deep frying them become second nature.

There are as many cannoli shell recipes as there are fillings, and each will have its own flavor, texture, and reason for being. While the recipes with eggs are generally easier to roll out, I personally like recipes with no eggs since I can rest the dough and keep it at room temperature without degradation. Traditional fillings typically contain a sweetened ricotta cheese mixture with chopped nuts, candied fruits or grated chocolate as garnish. Garnish can be both internal (inside the mix) or external (dipping the ends in it for color). And while ricotta cheese is traditional, any mousse or Chantilly can be used.

Here are a few tips for making cannolis:
  • Cannolis can be prepared a few days and up to a week in advance if kept in an airtight container. While I say 'can', they are best eaten the day they are made.
  • Always fill á la minute - prepare the filling, fill, and serve. Never fill and try to store for a long time in the refrigerator.
  • Roll out a large piece of dough at a time and cut as many shapes as you can. The dough can become quite stiff if rerolled. But keep the scraps. Take the trimmings and fry up, drain, and sprinkle with powdered sugar - this will keep 'testers' from getting into your finished cannoli pile.
  • Place a little bit of eggwash on the dough to seal the edges to hold the cannoli in place.
  • Fry until blistered and browned, and carefully remove the cooked cannoli from the forms while still hot or very warm. If left to cool they will be difficult to remove from the metal cannoli tube. 
  • As you fry, keep the temperature at a consistent temperature.

Cannoli Dough Recipe

Here is my favorite recipe for cannoli dough. I formulated it, and it is the only one I use now. I'm not sure how it compares with your favorite one, but I find it creates a rich color after frying, and goes with any filling. Also, I can make it ahead of time and simply let it come to room temperature when I want to fry up the cannoli. This no-egg version contains Marsala - no substitutions.

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 7 tablespoons Marsala (no substitutions)
Place flour in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar and salt. Stir in the butter and the Marsala until a dough forms. Transfer to a work surface and knead the dough until smooth, about 5 to 10 minutes. Let the cannoli dough rest on the counter, covered, for about a half an hour before rolling out. This dough can be chilled overnight for advance preparation; simply allow to come to room temperature before rolling.

When ready for rolling, cut dough in half and roll out very thin. Cut into desired sized shapes and roll around cannoli forms. Fry a few at a time in hot oil (350°F) until browned. Carefully remove from the oil and allow to cool only slightly before removing from the molds - the use of tongs is helpful. Cool completely and use immediately, or allow to cool and wrap tightly for later use.


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