The first thing you need to know about these cannoli shells is that they are baked and not fried. Yes, baked! Forming and frying the cannoli shells takes a lot of time. Frying them does make them extra decadent and delicious, but it’s too big of an undertaking to make at home most days, so here’s a quick and healthier alternative.
I adapted my aunt Nina’s Sicilian cannoli recipe slightly, so that the dough could be baked instead of fried. My uncle Mario, her husband, is from Sicily. This recipe is adapted from his mother’s recipe. The flavor of the baked cannoli shells is almost as good as the fried ones. Of course, the fried ones are going to taste a little better. The baked dough is crisp and holds up to the moist ricotta filling just as well as the fried shells. We brought the baked cannoli over to mom and dad’s for dessert last night and everybody loved them including my mom. I wasn’t sure what she would think about them not being fried, but she thought it was a good idea and she really liked them, so I can confidently say that this recipe is a keeper.
I presented the cannoli two ways – Napoleon cakes and little cannoli cups. The Napoleon cakes are more elegant, but the cannoli cups are bite-size and easier to eat. You could even serve deconstructed cannoli family-style. Just put the ricotta filling in a bowl and surround it with cannoli strips for dipping. That could be fun too. It just depends how formal the occasion is.
I used cookie cutters to shape the dough and then baked the shells in a mini muffin tin. I baked the Napoleons on a cookie sheet. I greased both pans generously with vegetable oil and brushed a little oil on top of the dough as well.
You’ll want to roll the dough out as thin as possible, around 1/8th of an inch, so that the cannoli shells will be crispy and not doughy. We are not frying the dough, so to ensure that the baked dough is crispy like the fried dough, it needs to be quite thin. The dough is very easy to work with, but it is important to allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax, so that it is easier to roll out and so that it will keep its shape.
The shells bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. Allow them to cool before you add the ricotta filling, which is super easy to make. The crispy shell goes so well with the sweet and delicate ricotta filling.
These cannoli shells are baked and super easy to make. The ricotta filling is delicious and simple to make. These cannoli are a relatively healthy dessert.
- 1 1/4 cups flour (more for rolling)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cocoa powder, unsweetened (optional)
- 2 tbsp vegetable shortening, room temperature
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup red wine, room temperature (as much as needed)
- 1 1/2 cups drained ricotta
- 3 or 4 tbsp icing sugar (I prefer less sweet)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp shaved chocolate (topping)
- 2 tbsp pistachio pieces (topping)
Place the ricotta in a sieve over a deep bowl. The sieve should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Allow the ricotta to drain in the fridge while you make the cannoli shells.
Add all of the dry ingredients to another bowl. Whisk to combine.
Add the vegetable shortening to the dry ingredients. Use your fingers to combine until the shortening is well distributed.
Add 1/3 cup of red wine to start. You need just enough wine to bring the dough together. Add 1 tbsp at time after that. You should not need more than 1/2 a cup of wine.
Divide the dough into two balls. Cover the dough with plastic wrap.
Allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes. This step is very important.
Grease the pans generously with vegetable oil.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Roll the dough out as thin as you can without it tearing (about 1/8th of an inch thick).
Use a cookie cutter to cut out circles for the cups and rectangles for the Napoleons.
Place the cutouts into the greased mini muffin tin or on the baking sheet.
Brush the tops of the cutouts with vegetable oil.
Cook for 10 to 13 minutes. Check at 10 minutes. The shells should be firm and slightly golden brown on the bottom. They will get harder when they cool.
Allow the shells to cool before filling. Do not fill the shells too far in advance. It will make the shells soft. It would be ideal to fill the cannoli just before serving, but you can fill them a couple of hours before serving. Keep them refrigerated. You would do the same with fried shells.
Place the strained ricotta in a bowl. Mix in the cinnamon and icing sugar. If you want a more refined texture, you can whip the ricotta in a stand mixer for a couple of minutes. I skipped this step. It does look prettier, but it won’t impact the flavour much. You can also double the quantity of chocolate and pistachios and put 2 tablespoons of each in the ricotta filling as well or you can just sprinkle one or both on top. It’s up to you.
Put the ricotta filling into a piping bag and pipe it into the shells. Top with the chocolate and pistachios.
- The cannoli shells are vegan. You could fill the shells with a non-dairy pudding, yogurt or ice cream as well.
- The recipe can be doubled for a larger batch.
- If you want to serve these for dessert after a dinner party, I would prepare the ricotta filling and then put it into a piping bag and leave it in a tall glass in the refrigerator so that it’s ready to go and can be piped and served to your quests quickly.