How to Make Crispy & Crunchy Cannoli Shells
The perfect Italian cannoli is a mixture of skill and knowledge. Armed with the perfect recipe, you can learn how to make the most delicious authentic cannoli. You simply need the proper cannoli shell recipe, the perfect cannoli cream filling, and patience.
My cannoli recipe was handed down from my Grandma, who was a master Italian chef (in my mind). Her parents were from Italy, and Grandma learned to cook the most delicious Italian food. She created lasagna, homemade manicotti shells, and Italian cream cakes. But her cannolis were simply decadent. The shells were delicate and light; they were crispy enough to have a delicate texture, but the filling was light and creamy---but not too creamy! (The filling is also called cannoli cream.) Her secret was to use a light hand with the sugar. I have never once visited an Italian restaurant that made a dessert that equaled hers.
Cannoli Tubes and Cutter
The perfect cannoli requires the proper equipment. You will need to purchase cannoli tubes and an oval canolli cutter. The tubes generally come in packages of four. The oval cutter looks like a cookie cutter. When you roll the dough, you use this tool to cut the shapes, then you can roll the Italian pastry dough around your tubes. You should also get tongs to help you remove your pastries from the deep fryer or your hot pan of oil.
I recommend purchasing several packages of the cannoli tubes. They are inexpensive, so you can afford several packs. I recommend three or four; otherwise, you will have to wait for the cannoli tubes to cool down before you can make another batch. If possible, try to get tubes that are at least 1" in diameter. Some tubes come in a 7/8" diameter, but you need more room for the ricotta filling.
The Cannoli Shell Recipe
- 1/8 teaspoons salt
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1 egg
- 2 Tablespoons butter, cut into tiny squares
- 1/4 cup white wine
Mix salt, sugar, and flour in a large bowl until well combined. Add butter, and cut in using a pastry knife until it works itself into the cannoli dough. Add egg and white wine. Mix just until the dough forms into a smooth ball. Do not mix any more or the dough will become tough.
Roll very thin, using flour on the table surface and on the dough. You want the cannoli dough to be as thin as paper. Use the cannoli cutter to cut the cannoli shells, then place a damp paper towel over the shells until you are ready to use them.
There is a short window of time between when you roll the dough and when you fry the dough, or it will dry out.
Deep Fat Fryer
Frying the Cannoli Shells
The cannoli shells can be fried in a deep fat fryer, like a FryDaddy, or they can be fried in a regular frying pan. Use canola oil for best results, and use fresh oil each time. Oil tends to retain its flavor, and you want your cannoli shells to be crisp and airy without a trace of any other taste.
Heat the oil to about 350 degrees. The oil will be ready when you place a drop of water in the oil and it sizzles. Always be careful when using hot oil.
While the oil is heating up, separate an egg. Whip the egg white only; throw the egg yolk away. When the oil is ready, then prepare your shells. Place a cannoli tube in the center of the cut cannoli dough. Very loosely wrap the shell around the tube. Give it about an extra 1/2 inch - 3/4 of an inch on the sides because it will expand when it gets hot. Where the dough meets, brush a bit of egg white on the dough, then press the other side of the dough on to it. This will help seal the seam.
Have an extra batch of prepared cannoli shells already wrapped in dough. When you remove the first batch, you can place the next batch without messing up your process. It works even more smoothly with two or more chefs.
Only place about four shells in the deep fat fryer or hot frying pan at one time. If you have any more cannoli shells in the oil, it will be too crowded and they will not turn out right. Turn the shells frequently until they are golden brown on all sides. Have a plate with several paper towels ready for your finished shells.
When the shells are finished frying, use the tongs to take them from the hot oil. Use a fork to carefully slide them off of the cannoli tubes. You must remove your pastries now, or they will harden to the cooking surface. Set aside so you can use the tubes for the next batch. They cool in about four or five minutes.
The Secret to the Perfect Cannoli
Before we go any further, I want to share the secret to the perfect cannoli: NEVER fill the cannoli early. Keep the cannoli filling or the cannoli cream chilled. ONLY fill the cannot right before you are ready to serve dessert.
I cannot stress this enough. If you pre-fill the shells, they will be ruined. Cannolis must be hand-filled, every single time, right before dessert is served. They are perfect with a steaming cup of coffee.
The Cannoli Cream Recipe
The recipe for the cannoli filling, or canoli cream, is so very simple. Keep it simple, and don't try to make it too fancy. The secret to success is to hand-fill the cannoli right before you serve dessert. That's the easy way to serve the perfect Italian pastry.
- 4 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup of sugar, granulated
- 1 cup miniature chocolate chips
Buy an expensive brand of ricotta cheese and make sure you pour any excess liquid off of the top of the cheese before making your filling or cannoli cream. And never use confectioner's sugar. Granulated sugar adds a little texture to the dish, instead of making it too creamy and weak. Simply stir all of the ingredients together and fill your cannoli shell right before serving.
You can spruce up your pastry by adding a bit of orange or lemon zest if you like.
Storing Your Food and Equipment
Once your cannoli shells are made, you can store them up to two weeks in an airtight container. Make sure that each cannoli shell is separated from each other with a paper towel or a thin sheet or parchment paper. If any moisture gets into your container, the shells will lose their crispy texture.
Store your filling in the refrigerator for up to a week. I keep the cannoli filling in the ricotta cheese containers; they fit well and we can always find them.
Hand wash your cannoli tubes and cutter. Make sure that you dry each piece of equipment carefully. If you do not dry the items completely, they will become rusty, and the rusty will affect the texture of your Italian pastry the next time that you make it.
It's easy to learn how to make Italian cannoli shells and the cannoli cream filling. With a few easy tools and a little experience, you can serve the most delicious Italian pastries, too.