Daring Bakers: Cannoli

I think I got more excited about this challenge than any others I've done so far with the Daring Bakers! The macarons were frustrating and the puff pastry was fun, but cannoli are one of my favorite desserts, I don't have them very often, and I've never made them before. I couldn't wait to give it a try and see if mine could come anywhere close to ones from the wildly popular Mike's Pastry or Modern Pastry in Boston's North End.

To be honest, I never even thought about making my own cannoli. I've always envisioned making a cake with cannoli filling but never the actual shells. I just figured that making cannoli shells was something that only happened at Italian bakeries.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

I'm so glad Lisa Michele chose cannoli for this challenge. It pushed me to make something I might not have otherwise.

We were required to make the shells but could do whatever we wanted for the filling. I chose to make mini cannoli (how shocking that I might make something mini) filled with chocolate mousse, white chocolate cinnamon mousse, and regular cannoli filling.

I ordered mini cannoli forms and regular-size forms, but I never even opened the regular ones. The minis were just too adorable, and there wasn't so much dough that I felt overwhelmed by using it all to make minis, which I thought might happen. I'm sure I'll find a use for the regular-size forms eventually. I found four forms to be the perfect number: You can have two ready to go while you work with the other two in the oil.

There's nothing really tricky or unusual about making cannoli if you've worked with dough and you're comfortable with frying. To make sure they would work out okay, I fried one batch of dough one night and fried the rest the following night. The unfilled shells held up perfectly overnight. I stored them in a Ziploc bag with a paper towel to collect any remaining oil.

You can find the recipe below, or if you want a more complete version with total cooking time and necessary equipment, head to the Daring Kitchen.

Lidisiano's Cannoli Shells


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup Riesling (or Marsala or other sweet red or white wine)
1 large egg white
Vegetable oil for frying


In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and 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, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight (I left mine for two days).

cannoli dough
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Starting at the middle setting, run one of the pieces of dough through the rollers of a pasta machine.

running cannoli dough through pasta machine
Lightly dust the dough with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Pass the dough through the machine repeatedly, until you reach the highest or second highest setting. The dough should be about 4 inches wide and thin enough to see your hand through.

rolled out cannoli dough
Continue rolling out the remaining dough. If you do not have enough cannoli tubes for all of the dough, lay the pieces of dough on sheets of plastic wrap and keep them covered until you are ready to use them. Cut out 1.5-inch circles. Roll the cut out circles into ovals.

cannoli circle
Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes for the first use. Roll a dough oval from the long side around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

cannoli dough wrapped around cannoli tubes
In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 1 to 1.5 inches. Heat until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

cannoli ready to be fried in oil
Carefully lower two of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

cannoli in oil
Using tongs, lift each cannoli tube out of the oil, making sure to drain the oil out of the tube back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Repeat with the remaining tubes. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

fried cannoli shells
Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, toss them in the freezer for a couple minutes to cool between uses.

fried cannoli shells
Cannoli Filling


32 ounces ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons grated orange zest


Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioners' sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl, and stir in zest. Chill until firm. (The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated.)

The chocolate mousse I used is from Cook's Illustrated, and the white chocolate cinnamon mousse is from Lindt Chocolate Passion.

When my friends came over, we started by dipping some of the cannoli in melted chocolate and then put them in the fridge to harden.

dipping cannoli shells in chocolate
chocolate-dipped cannoli shells
Then I supplied them with piping bags filled with the various fillings, chopped pistachios, chopped walnuts, and mini chocolate chips. We all went to town filling and decorating the mini cannoli.

We had so much fun creating different combinations of fillings and toppings. And we had even more fun eating the mini cannoli, which were more delicious than I imagined possible. The shells came out with just the right amount of crunch, and for the first time I noticed the levels of flavor in the dough from the wine, cinnamon, and cocoa powder.

I would definitely make these again!