Homemade Cannoli

Light and crispy cannoli shells filled with a sweet, creamy ricotta filling make these homemade cannoli an absolute treat. Learn how to make cannoli from shell to filling for a family-favorite recipe you will want to make again and again.

A stack of homemade cannoli on a wire rack with parchment paper and a bottle of milk in the back.

This recipe is super special to me, as it hails from my husband’s family. I had enjoyed cannoli many, many times, but I never knew anyone who actually made the whole pastry (shells AND filling!) completely from scratch. Not only were the shells and filling homemade, but my husband’s grandfather used to work at an aluminum plant and crafted the cannoli forms himself!

Over 10 years ago, on New Year’s Eve day, we gathered at my in-laws’ house to make cannoli. I watched his Nana roll out the dough and wrap it meticulously around the forms, watched his dad stir the filling patiently, and then got to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

What are Cannoli?

If you are not familiar, cannoli are a traditional Sicilian pastry that is made by rolling out a circle of dough and wrapping it around a metal cylinder or “form” and then deep-frying.

Once cool, the shells are filled with a sweetened ricotta filling. Sometimes nuts or dried fruit are added to the filling and sometimes the ends are dipped into crushed nuts or chocolate chips.

Four cannoli on a wire rack with another cannoli on a white plate in the front left.

There are two components to cannoli: the shells and the filling. They are made separately and then the filling is piped into the shells adorned on the ends with things such as mini chocolate chips, chopped nuts, citron, etc. and the whole thing can be dusted with powdered sugar before serving.

Let’s take each one separately and discuss…

The Shell Ingredients

Homemade cannoli shells are made with a dough that is similar to pie crust, though slightly more stable thanks to egg yolks, which also make it easier to roll out. You’ll need:

Ingredients for cannoli shells in bowls labeled with purple labels.
  • Cake flour: Used to make a more delicate dough that crisps up in the frying process.
  • Sugar: To sweeten the shell.
  • Vegetable shortening: With a higher melting point than butter the shortening will hold its shape during the frying process.
  • Egg Yolks: Binds the dough together and gives it a little color.
  • Wine: Adds flavor and acidity to soften the gluten and make the shells light and crisp.
  • Vegetable oil: Used for frying the shells.

The Filling Ingredients

Traditional cannoli fillings are made with sweetened ricotta cheese. Some fillings call for draining the cheese or beating the cheese, then mixing in the sugar and other add-ins in various ways. For this filling you will need:

Ingredients for cannoli on a tile counter with purple labels.
  • Ricotta cheese: Gives the filling a creamy texture.
  • Milk: I use whole milk to thin out the filling while still keeping it rich and creamy.
  • Sugar: Sweetens the filling.
  • Cornstarch: Used to thicken the filling and make it hold its shape in the cannoli shell.

Mix-In Ideas

Want to add some extra flavor to your cannoli filling? Here are some fun additions you can mix into the filling before piping into the shell:

  • Orange or lemon zest
  • Finely chopped nuts like pistachios, peanuts, pecans, or almonds
  • Mini chocolate chips
  • Crushed Oreos

How to Make the Shells

Homemade cannoli shells are made with a dough that is similar to pie crust, though slightly more stable thanks to egg yolks, which also make it easier to roll out. 

The dough should be rolled out incredibly thin; this ensures that they are flaky and light and don’t take on too much oil during the frying process. Once the dough is rolled out, it is wrapped around individual cannoli forms.

Two side by side photos of bowls prepping the cannoli shell dough.
Two side by side photos of white bowls on the left a flour mixture with a spoon and on the right the cannoli shell dough.

The shells are traditionally fried to create a super light and flaky consistency.

A tile counter with cannoli shell forms a rolling pin a round of dough and a small cookie scoop of dough in the bottom left.

How to Make the Filling

Traditional cannoli fillings are made with sweetened ricotta cheese. Some fillings call for draining the cheese or beating the cheese, then mixing in the sugar and other add-ins in various ways.

This particular recipe is for a cooked ricotta filling – the ricotta is beat with a mixer to smooth it out, and then cooked into a sweet ricotta pudding of sorts with sugar, milk, and cornstarch. It’s chilled completely before being used to fill the cannoli.

Three side by side photos of the steps for making the ricotta filling.

How to Fill a Cannoli Shell

  • Prep the piping bag: When you are ready to serve the cannoli, fit a large piping bag with a large round (Ateco #806), or star tip (Ateco #828) and fill it with the ricotta filling.
  • Note: If you do not have piping bags you can put the filling in a large ziplock plastic bag and simply snip off one corner.
  • Fill the shells: Squeeze the bag to pipe filling into each end of the cannoli shell, making sure it’s completely filled inside.
  • Garnish the cannoli: Dip the ends into mini chocolate chips or chopped nuts and dust with powdered sugar if desired.
A counter with various cannolis dipped in nuts or chocolate.

FAQ and Troubleshooting

Why is my filling runny or grainy?

In each of these instances, it’s due to the ricotta cheese not being smoothed out enough. Usually beating it with a mixer before incorporating the other ingredients is enough, but if your ricotta cheese is particularly watery, you may want to drain it through cheesecloth overnight before using it.

Why are my shells soggy?

If you store the cannoli shell with the filling, it will cause the shell to absorb moisture from the filling. To prevent a soggy shell, store the shell and the filling separately until you are ready to serve the cannoli.

If your shells are not filled but still seem soggy, put them in the oven at 250 degrees F and bake for 5 to 10 minutes to crisp them up.

What type of wine should I use?

You can use red or white, although red will alter the color of the dough. Use whatever you have on hand; I typically use pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, or marsala.

If you do not drink alcohol or do not want to use wine in the dough, you can use buttermilk as a substitute.

Can you bake cannoli shells?

While they are best fried, you can bake the shells in the forms in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Making Ahead & Storage Tips

  • Make-Ahead Shells: The shells can be fried, cooled, and stored in an airtight container for up to 7 days before filling. They can also be frozen for up to 1 month in an airtight container.
  • Make-Ahead Filling: The filling can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Freezing is not recommended, as it can become watery when thawed.
A close up of four cannoli on a wire rack with a cannoli in the back and the rim of a plate in the front left.

Other Italian Desserts to Try Next:

There is truly nothing better than homemade cannoli. From the creamy ricotta filling to the crispy fried shell, you will love everything about this traditional cannoli recipe.

f you make this recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️

Homemade Cannoli

Servings 36 cannoli
Prep 30 minutes
Cook 30 minutes
resting time 6 hours
Total 7 hours
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Michelle

Light and crispy shells filled with a sweet, creamy ricotta filling make this homemade cannoli recipe an old family favorite.

Ingredients:

For the Ricotta Filling

  • 32
    ounces
    ricotta cheese
  • 2
    cups
    whole milk
  • 2
    cups
    granulated sugar
  • ½
    cup
    cornstarch

For the Shells

  • 16
    ounces
    cake flour
  • ¼
    cup
    granulated sugar
  • 2
    ounces
    vegetable shortening
    (5 tablespoons )
  • 2
    egg yolks
  • ¾ – 1
    cup
    white wine
  • Vegetable oil
    (for frying)

Special Equipment

Directions:

  1. Make the Dough for the Shells: In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour and the sugar. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Add the egg yolks and stir with a wooden spoon until mostly combined (the dough will look shaggy). Add 2/3 cup of the wine and stir and fold using a rubber spatula. You want the dough to come together like pie dough, so if it is still dry and shaggy, add more wine, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together when pinched between your fingers. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for at least 4 hours.

  2. Make the Filling: Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl and beat on medium speed until completely smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes; set aside. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, milk and cornstarch. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth and the sugar is totally dissolved. Gently stir the heated sugar mixture into the ricotta until combined. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (a few large bubbles should pop at the surface when it has thickened), about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. The filling should be completely chilled when used to fill the cannoli shells.

  3. Make the Cannoli Shells: Using a small cookie scoop, tear off about 1 tablespoon of dough at at time. Roll to 1/8-inch thickness, about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough around a cannoli form, overlapping the dough and press to seal together. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

  4. Line baking sheets with a double layer of paper towels.
  5. Fry the Cannoli Shells: Add vegetable oil to whatever you are going to use for frying (a Dutch oven or deep cast iron skillet work great), ensuring you have at least 1 to 2 inches of oil. Heat the oil to 375°F and, a few at a time (or however many fit in your frying vessel without crowding), place the prepared forms into the oil. Fry until light golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes, using tongs to move them around as necessary, especially if using a skillet, so they don't settle in one spot. Remove the forms from the oil (being careful to drain out any oil inside the form) and set the shells on paper towels to drain. Once they are cooled enough to handle, slide the shell off of the form.

  6. Assemble the Cannoli: When you are ready to serve the cannoli, fit a large piping bag with a large round or star tip, and fill it with the ricotta filling. (If you don't have piping bags and tips, you can put the filling in a large ziploc bag and simply snip off one corner.) Squeeze the bag to pipe filling into each end of the cannoli shell, making sure it is completely filled inside. Dip the ends into mini chocolate chips or chopped nuts and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

Recipe Notes:

  • Wine: You can use white or red, any variety, but the red will tint the dough (it won’t alter the taste). If you cannot consume wine, substitute buttermilk. 
  • Baked Shells Option: If you want to bake the shells instead of frying, bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
  • You should only fill the cannoli right before you are planning on serving them so the shells do not get soggy. Only fill as many cannoli as you plan on eating!
  • Make-Ahead Shells: The shells can be fried, cooled, and stored in an airtight container for up to 7 days before filling. They can also be frozen for up to 1 month in an airtight container.
  • Make-Ahead Filling: The filling can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Freezing is not recommended, as it can become watery when thawed.

Nutrition:

Calories: 173kcal
Fat: 5g
Saturated fat: 2g
Cholesterol: 25mg
Sodium: 28mg
Potassium: 61mg
Carbohydrates: 24g
Sugar: 13g
Protein: 4g
Vitamin A: 150%
Calcium: 71%
Iron: 0.3%

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!

Photography by Dee Frances.