Cannoli: Tracing The Fascinating Origins Of The Italian Dessert
Image Credit: Freepik

Cannoli is a mouthwatering Italian confection composed of a tube-shaped fried pastry dough. This dough is typically stuffed with a rich and creamy filling made of ricotta cheese. The versatile dessert is available in several sizes, ranging from the length of a finger to an entire fist! What makes cannoli special? For starters, the Sicilian treat is beloved across Italy, perhaps bested only by the coffee-infused tiramisu. Additionally, the dessert is entrenched in the culture of the country, widely considered a crown jewel of Italian culinary innovation.

What makes cannoli stand out is that it’s quite difficult to perfect. One wrong move, and the entire, intricately-crafted pastry could crumble. Prepared using eggs, flour, sugar, lard, and Marsala, one must painstakingly ensure to wrap the dessert around a rod while frying to hold its signature shape. Modern cannoli variations have gotten more creative with their fillings, with ingredients like pistachios, chocolate chips, orange peel, cocoa, and cinnamon integrating flawlessly with the pastry’s traditional ricotta cheese filling.

Although cannoli is a contemporary sensation, the dessert’s origins are quite hazy. Read about the history of cannoli below.

Cannoli: History

As touched on above, cannoli is believed to hail from the Italian region of Sicily. This region has historically been governed by various different cultures, some of which probably played a role in the invention of cannoli. Some historians opine that the dessert originated in the Sicilian city of Piana Degli Albanesi; however, conflicting theories suggest that the dish was created during the Arab reign of Sicily, when the island was called “Emirate of Sicily.”

Legend goes that the castle of Sicily was inhabited by an Arab prince and his harem. This harem was populated with concubines, who strived hard to concoct extravagant feasts and sweet dishes for the prince. One of the delicately-designed desserts they created involved a cylindrical pastry case, pumped with a sweet ricotta cheese, almonds, and honey filling. This creation is popularly thought to be one of the first and original iterations of present-day cannoli.

Image Credits: Unsplash

A second theory related to the origin of cannoli revolves around a convent, speculated to be not very far from the Arab prince’s castle. The nuns of this convent were master cooks and bakers; as a way to mark the holiday period before Lent, known as “Carnevale,” they devised a novel form of pastry. The shell of the pastry, “scoria,” was stuffed with ricotta cheese, sugar, chocolate, and almonds, laying the foundation for the contemporary version of cannoli.

According to historians, both the above origin stories have some element of truth. Many historians also hold the opinion that cannoli was invented in the Sicilian municipality of Caltanissetta around 827–1091 CE. Women were thought to be the primary creators of the dessert, and the earliest variations of cannoli were weaved from ingredients, such as sugarcane and almonds, which were brought by the Arabs. Remarkably, cannoli was once referred to as “Turkish hats,” further pointing to the dessert’s Arab and Middle-Eastern roots.

Now, check out an easy cannoli recipe to try out at home.

Cannoli: Recipe

Image Credits: Freepik


6 readymade cannoli shells

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup whipped cream

1 teaspoon vanilla


Image Credits: Freepik

Step 1: Arrange the cannoli shells on parchment paper on a baking dish with a cover.

Step 2: In a blender, combine ricotta, sugar, and vanilla till the concoction becomes whipped.

Step 3: Add the whipped cream into the cheese and vanilla mixture; ensure not to overmix the ingredients.

Step 4: Pump this cannoli filling into a large zip-lock bag. Carefully make a ¼ inch long cut in a single corner of the bag.

Step 5: Load each cannoli shell gently, by pushing the filling into one corner of the pastry first, and then the other, to ensure that the filling unites at the centre.

Step 6: Garnish the cannoli with chocolate chips to give it added texture and flavour. Chill the dessert before eating. Enjoy!