Don't Forget the Cannoli 08.07.2013

In honour of James Gandolfini, we decided to have an Italian-themed dinner at home with some friends. To be honest, I’ve never really been a big fan of cannoli; it’s usually pre-prepared and soggy and overly sweet, filled with whipped cream rather than the traditional ricotta. But our menu included bread AND pasta AND mashed potato (and salami and beautiful veal scallopine and spinach), so I didn’t want to make a massive overwhelming dessert, lest I kill people. Cannoli, which is definitely super-Italian, seemed like a good thing to try.


For the dough:

  • 225gms plain flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp good cocoa
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • ¼ cup Marsala
  • 1 egg, beaten

  • 1 egg white, beaten, for sealing the shells

  • A bunch of vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • Icing sugar for dusting

For the filling

  • 650gms ricotta, drained
  • 100gms double cream
  • 80ml Marsala
  • 50gms icing sugar
  • 50gms finely chopped mixed peel or glacé orange


  • A pasta machine for rolling out the dough really thin
  • 4-6 ~12cm lengths of dowel, about 1.5cm thick. Prepare the dowel ahead of time by frying it in some vegetable oil and letting it drain on some kitchen towel.
  • A candy thermometer
  • A sturdy, deep, stainless steel saucepan
  • Kitchen towel
  • Piping bag and a star-shaped tip with a good wide opening

A note about tubes

Many recipes recommend that you use cannelloni pasta tubes for wrapping, but I found it disastrous: the deep-frying made them dry and brittle and difficult to slide the cannoli off. I bought dowel from the hardware store for $3 (cheaper than the $6 I paid for the cannelloni tubes), and it’s perfect, and reusable (for brandy snaps, too).


Making cannoli is a bit of an exercise, you’ll be unsurprised to learn.

The dough itself is straightforward: sift the flour, cocoa and cinnamon into a bowl, add the sugar, butter, Marsala and egg, and stir until it becomes a dough. Then knead it until it’s smooth and a bit stretchy, wrap it plastic, and leave it overnight in the fridge (you can probably get away with leaving it for just an hour or two, but I found the dough much easier to work with when it had been left overnight).

After the dough has rested, divide it into six pieces, returning all the pieces but one to the fridge.

Flour a piece of the dough and feed it through the middle slot on the pasta machine, then continue to pass it through each thinner setting, until the dough is very thin – you want to be able to see your hand through it, but it mustn’t be split, or it’ll be very tricky to work with.

Cut the length of dough into a number of 10cm squares (you might get 3-4 out of one length) – make sure they’re very close to square, or they’ll be hard to wrap around the tubes. Place the squares on a floured surface and cover them with a tea-towel while you roll and cut the rest. You can try to re-roll the cut-offs at the end, if you want to get the absolute most out of the dough.

To roll, take a piece of the dough and lay it flat on the palm of your hand. Place the dowel diagonally across the middle and then roll the dough around the dowel so that the opposite corners overlap. Dab some egg white on the inside of one of the points and press it down lightly to seal. Make as many as you have dowel for.

To deep fry, heat the oil to 180C – it look about 10 minutes to come to temperature on my stove, but it’s very important that you make sure it’s this hot, or the cannoli will not be crisp (a couple that I cooked at 170C after the oil had lost a bit of heat were noticeably less good).

When the oil is at temperature, add four cannoli – don’t crowd the pan – and cook for a couple of minutes. They’ll blister and darken, but if you cook for too long they’ll burn, so keep an eye on them. I found that two minutes was enough time. Make sure you keep an eye on the temperature.

Drain them on kitchen towel. You should let them cool for a couple of minutes before removing the dowel, to avoid burning yourself, but don’t wait too long – the dowel is harder to remove when the cannoli are cool, and the insides will become soggy if you leave them too long.

Allow the dowel to cool off for several minutes before wrapping and frying your next batch.

When all your tubes are fried and the dowel removed, you can re-fry them for another minute or so to get the insides properly crisp. It seemed worth it to me!

When the tubes have cooled, you can fill them: mix the filling ingredients and fill your piping bag, then squeeze the filling into the tubes. This is the fun bit.

Finally, dust the filled tubes with icing sugar and serve. How. Good.

File under dessert

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