Why buy cannoli shells when you can make them at home! Trust us, homemade cannoli shells stand head and shoulders above any shop-bought ones! Our recipe below is an adjusted recipe by Angela Hartnett, with the added tips and tricks on how to get the shells just right and what to do if you don’t have cannoli moulds!
What are Cannoli?
Cannoli is a deep-fried pastry stuffed with a sweet ricotta filling. Originating in Sicily, they are one of the most well-known Italian desserts that have gained enormous popularity across the world. The name comes from a Sicilian world cannolu, meaning a small tube, that represents the shape of the pastry.
Whilst the history of truly traditional foods is always a topic for debate, some historians claim that cannoli are a symbol of fertility and were traditionally eaten during the Carnival season. Read more about the history, here (it’s certainly interesting).
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What Equipment Will You Need?
For perfectly shaped cannoli, you will ideally have Cannoli Moulds. You can get them in specialist cookware shops or online, and they can be as expensive or as cheap as you’d like. We have these budget-friendly cannoli moulds and never had an issue with them.
However, we also took on a challenge to prepare beautiful cannoli shells without the moulds. We rummaged through our kitchen (and garage!) for hollow tubes, and found something that worked a treat! You know large bamboo sticks that you use in the garden to support plants? Well, they act perfectly as cannoli moulds. We cut them into 10 cm sticks choosing parts that didn’t have joints (Seb may have sanded a few joints as well). Yes, your cannoli will likely be smaller in diameter, so you may want to use a smaller pastry ring/ cookie cutter as well, but it works. The two lots of homemade cannoli shells we made can be seen below.
Although Cannoli Shells have a very distinct texture and shape, they are actually made with very simple everyday ingredients. You will need:
- white flour: plain (all-purpose flour).
- caster sugar: also known as superfine sugar.
- bicarbonate of soda: also known as baking soda (not to be confused with baking powder).
- butter: unsalted, fridge-cold. We used European-style butter with higher fat content.
- egg: egg yolk for shells, egg white for sealing.
- dry white wine: any wine will do (so no need to choose an expensive bottle), as it mainly adds to the texture. The signature bubbles of cannoli shells are created as the alcohol evaporates when cooking the pastry in hot oil.
- oil: any oil suitable for deep drying. We used vegetable oil.
Tips and Tricks for Making Great Cannoli Shells
- Knead the pastry. Although unusual, you actually have to knead the pastry quite a bit to get all the lovely bubbles on the surface once fried. Roll your sleeves up and work the pastry for at least 5 minutes.
- Try rolling the pastry only once: Try and roll your pastry out thinly only once into a large sheet, then cut the circles as close to each other as possible to get as many as you can. Yes, you will be left with some scraps, that you can reroll, but I find that rerolled pastry makes for cannoli shells with fewer bubbles on the surface and they are definitely less crumbly and melt in the mouth.
- Roll the pastry out thinly. The pastry is a strange one to work with, it contracts when you roll it, but on the other hand it doesn’t stick. Your pastry should be extremely thin if you want your cannoli shells crispy, so my advice is to use a pasta machine if you have one. Alternatively, use a rolling pin! You may not be able to roll it out thinly enough to get the shells completely crispy, but if you ask me, I like a slightly cakier cannoli. We love stainless steel rolling pins for rolling out pastry!
- Brush the cannoli moulds with oil before wrapping the pastry around. This will prevent them from sticking.
- Control the oil temperature. It should be between 180-190 C. Any hotter and your cannoli will puff up too much and will be too brittle to hold the filling. Too low, and your shells will absorb too much oil and be grease. We use this kitchen thermometer.
- Don’t fill them too early. Don’t fill the shells right until you’re ready serve/ want to eat them. Your shells will be soggy if left with filling for more than 15 minutes. You can always keep a piping bag full of cannoli filling ready to go!
So How To Make Cannoli Shells?
Place the plain flour, caster sugar and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl. Add the cubed butter and rub with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg yolk with white wine. Pour it into the flour mixture and knead for 10 minutes until you have a smooth dough. The long kneading process makes sure air bubbles are trapped inside the pastry, which will create lovely blistered cannoli.
Roll out the dough on a surface lightly dusted with flour. It should be paper-thin, almost see-through. Using a 10 cm round cutter or a template, cut out 10-12 circles.
Wrap each circle tightly around greased cannoli mould (if you don’t have moulds, see text above – we have suggestions) using a little egg white to seal it together firmly.
Fill a small saucepan ⅔ full of oil and heat to 180° C. Lower down two cannoli at a time into hot oil and fry for 30-40 seconds. They should look bubbly and golden brown when done. Place them on a plate lined with a paper towel to cool. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, carefully remove the cannoli from their moulds in a gentle twisting motion.
Repeat with the rest of your cannoli. And leave them all to cool down completely, whilst you make the filling.
First of all, don’t make the shells in advance. They are best on the same day that they are intended to be served. Secondly, make sure to roll the cannoli pastry thinly, so that it cooks through and crisps up in a short amount of time before they brown too much. After frying them, let the shells cool down. And then fill them just before serving, so that the pastry doesn’t get a chance to absorb the moisture from the creamy filling. If you are making the shells ahead of time, make sure to store them in a fully sealed container with a small (shot) glass of rice inside it, to protect the cannoli from the humidity.
The blisters are created by two processes in cannoli shells. First, the alcohol used in the recipe evaporates whilst frying. But also, the air bubbles are trapped in the pastry whilst kneading. Make sure you knead the pastry as if it’s pasta dough. That means, make your time, and don’t be gentle with it.
Other Italian Desserts
If you are wondering what to fill your cannoli shells with, we will be posting our favourite cannoli filling recipes over the coming year, so keep an eye out. The first one, Campari & White Chocolate Filling is here for your to try already! For other Italian-inspired desserts, have a look at our recipes below:
- Chai Spiced Panna Cotta with Cranberry Jelly
- Sourdough Pannetonne
- Chocolate and Hazelnut Sourdough Biscotti
Homemade Cannoli Shells
- Cannoli Moulds (or see text above if you don't have them)
- 150 g plain flour
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- ¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 30 g butter
- 1 egg yolk for shells, egg white for sealing
- 50 ml dry white wine
- 1 l vegetable oil for frying
- Place the plain flour, caster sugar and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl. Add the cubed butter and rub with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- In a separate small bowl, mix the egg yolk with white wine. Pour it into the flour mixture and knead for 10 minutes until you have a smooth dough.
- Roll out the dough on a surface lightly dusted with flour. It should be paper thin, almost see-through. Using a 10 cm round cutter or a template, cut out 10-12 circles.
- Wrap each circle tightly around a cannoli mould (if you don't have moulds, see text above – we have suggestions) using a little egg white to seal it together firmly.
- Fill a small saucepan ⅔ full of oil and heat to 180 C. Lower down two cannoli at a time into hot oil and fry for 30-40 seconds. They should look bubbly and golden brown when done. Place them on a plate lined with a paper towel to cool. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, carefully remove the cannoli from their moulds in a gentle twisting motion.
- Repeat with the rest of the cannoli. Leave the shells to cool down before filling them.