Why It Works
- All-purpose flour strikes the right balance of tenderness and strength in the dough, for shells that are sturdy and crisp.
- Folding the dough over a thin layer of egg white creates tiny pockets of air, helping shells to bubble and blister in the hot oil.
- The dough will double in thickness as it fries, so rolling it to 1/16 inch will keep the shells delicate and thin.
- Refined coconut oil is odorless, so it won't stink up the kitchen as you fry; more importantly it's solid at room temperature, giving the cannoli shells a crisp and buttery texture that never feels greasy or soggy.
Good cannoli are impossible to find, but they're more than possible to make at home—if you have the right ingredients, anyway. Start with the best-quality ricotta, something irresistibly fresh and creamy all on its own. Stirred into a batch of homemade vanilla pudding, that ricotta becomes a sweet and silky filling for the crispy homemade shells. Fortunately, both elements can be made in advance, then assembled at the last minute and finished with a sprinkling of toasted pistachios or dark chocolate.
- For the Shells:
- 4 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal, plus more for dusting (about 1 cup, spooned; 125g)
- 1 ounce unsalted butter (about 2 tablespoons; 25g)
- 1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
- 1/16 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 ounces cold tap water (about 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon; 85g)
- For the Filling:
- 4 1/2 ounces plain or toasted sugar (about 2/3 cup; 130g)
- 1 ounce cornstarch (about 1/4 cup, spooned; 25g)
- 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
- 1 large egg (about 2 ounces; 55g)
- 1 large egg yolk (about 1/2 ounce; 15g), white reserved for the shells (see below)
- 8 ounces milk, any percentage will do (about 1 cup; 225g)
- 1/2 ounce vanilla extract (about 1 tablespoon; 15g)
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/16 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 20 ounces fresh ricotta, strained to a sour cream-like consistency if needed (about 2 1/3 cups; 565g; see note)
- To Fry:
- 42 ounces refined coconut oil, such as Nutiva, or other solid fat like vegetable shortening, lard, or palm oil (about 6 cups; 1.2kg)
- 1 egg white, well beaten (about 1 ounce; 25g)
- To Serve (Optional):
- 3 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate (about 1/2 cup; 85g)
- 3 ounces finely chopped pistachios (about 1/2 cup; 85g)
For the Dough: In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Pulse until the butter disappears, about 30 seconds, then add water and continue processing until dough rides up on the blade and forms a silky but stringy dough. This will take about 2 minutes, but the timing will vary depending on the size and horsepower of the food processor. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl, cover tightly, and allow the dough to relax at least 2 hours at room temperature, or up to 24 hours at cool room temperature.
For the Filling: In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well combined. Whisk in the egg, yolk, and milk. Once smooth, place over medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly but gently until warm to the touch, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium and cook, now whisking quite vigorously, until the custard begins to thicken, about 2 minute more. The custard may seem lumpy, almost like cottage cheese, but continue whisking until emulsified and silky smooth.
When the thick custard begins to bubble, set a timer and continue cooking and whisking for exactly 1 minute. (This step helps neutralize a starch-dissolving enzyme found in egg yolks.) Off heat, stir in vanilla extract, lemon zest, and cinnamon. Pour the custard onto a large plate or pie dish to form a thin layer (this will speed the cooling process), then press a sheet of plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until thick and cool, about 1 hour, or to a temperature of 68°F. Alternatively, refrigerate the custard up to one week and then return to room temperature until warmed to approximately 68°F.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cool pudding until creamy and smooth (this can also be done by hand using a flexible spatula, although it may seem impossible at first). Fold in the ricotta. Refrigerate in an airtight container until needed, up to 3 days.
Preparing the Dough: Turn the soft dough onto a well floured surface and, using as much flour as needed to prevent sticking, roll until approximately 1/16 inch thick. Brush excess flour from the dough, then lightly brush the surface with egg white. Carefully fold the dough in half, then dust with more flour and continue rolling to 1/16 inch. Gently lift the dough to make sure it hasn't stuck, then cut into into 3 1/2-inch rounds; re-roll the scraps and cut as before.
Preparing the Oil: Melt the refined coconut oil (or other solid fat) in a 5-quart stainless steel or enameled Dutch oven. Clip on digital thermometer and warm to 360°F over medium heat. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with 3 layers of paper towels, and form the shells.
To Form the Shells: Lightly grease the cannoli forms with pan spray or oil, then place each onto a round of prepared dough. Wrap the dough around the cannoli form, using a bit of egg white to firmly seal the flaps together where they overlap. (The dough should be comfortably secure around the form, neither too tight, as it will make the forms difficult to remove after frying, nor too loose, as this will allow the dough to slide free.)
To Fry: Working with three or four at a time, carefully lower the prepared cannoli forms into the hot oil and fry until the dough is blistered and pale gold, about 2 minutes. If any sink to the bottom (due to the weight of the forms), prevent them from burning by moving the cannoli from time to time with a pair of kitchen tweezers or tongs. When golden, lift the cannoli by the shell itself (rather than the slippery forms), and transfer to a paper towel–lined baking sheet.
While hot, use the kitchen tweezers or tongs to rap the tapered end of the form against the tray so the pastry shell slides free. Set the forms aside to cool, then re-use as before to form and fry the remaining dough. Cool the shells to room temperature and use immediately, or store up to 1 week in an airtight container. If using liquid fry oil, the shells cannot be prepared in advance.
To Serve: Transfer the prepared ricotta filling to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into a pastry shell until it reaches the middle; begin piping with steady pressure and slowly draw the tip from the tube. When you reach the edge of the shell, stop piping, then move the pastry tip away. Repeat on the opposite side, and fill the remaining cannoli shells the same way. Dip one or both ends of the filled cannoli into dishes of chopped chocolate and pistachio pieces, if desired. Enjoy immediately, or cover in plastic and refrigerate up to 4 hours (this will only work for shells fried in refined coconut oil; shells fried in liquid oil cannot be held more than a few moments).
Food processor, rolling pin, 3 1/2-inch round cutter, two pastry brushes, tapered, carbon steel cannoli forms, clip-on digital thermometer, heavy duty kitchen tweezers or stainless steel tongs, disposable pastry bag, a plain, 1/2-inch round tip
Cannoli are little more than edible serving vessels for ricotta, so don't settle for crappy supermarket brands chock full of gums, stabilizers, preservatives, or other additives. Their chalky flavor and squeaky mouthfeel won't magically improve in the filling, so if you can't find something that's outrageously good by the spoonful, cannoli are doomed to mediocrity. If at all possible, look for small, local producers in your area (at Serious Eats, we love Salvatore Bklyn), but national brands like Sorrento or Calabro will do in a pinch.