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Exploring Cannoli: History of the Sicilian Dessert and 7 Fun Recipes


Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Cannoli originates from Sicily, Italy

Cannoli originates from Sicily, Italy

What Does Sicily Mean to You?

What do you think of when you hear the name Sicily?

  • Perhaps you envision the beautiful beaches with pristine white sands and robin’s egg blue waters. The climate is definitely Mediterranean with short, mild winters and dry hot summers. Sicily, a triangular-shaped island, is surrounded by three seas (the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, the Ionian Sea to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south). Catania, on the east coast, has the most hours of sunshine of any city in Europe
  • My husband, the geologist, thinks of volcanoes. Sicily is home to Mount Etna, the tallest (and most famous) volcano in Europe, but there are nine other volcanoes on the island as well. Etna is the most active (yes, it still rumbles several times each year), but Stromboli and Vulcano are active too.
  • Those who appreciate the arts will know that Teatro Massimo, on the Piazza Verdi in Palermo, is the largest opera house in all of Italy (and it’s featured in The Godfather, Part Three).
  • Speaking of The Godfather, Sicily is where the Mafia, or Cosa Nostra, began—a group of men offering protection to their neighbors who were beset by cattle thieves. In time the group devolved into a racketeering business, exacting payment for protection.

When I think of Sicily, I dream of cannoli.

A Brief History of Sicily

It has been said that Sicily is the “gem” at the toe of the boot of Italy. This island region, roughly the same size in square miles as the state of Vermont, is home to five million souls. At the Strait of Messina less than two miles separate Sicily from the mainland. Because of its proximity to an area once considered the crossroads of civilization Sicily has been colonized by numerous empires in the past 12,000 years. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Sicily was inhabited by numerous other cultures. Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Byzantines each placed their mark on the island nation. The aggressive construction program of the Normans imparted a decided influence on the architecture of the island. But it was the Arab Emirate of Sicily (827-1091 A.D.) that introduced the foods we associate with Sicilian cuisine.

Citrus fruits in a Sicilian fruit stand

Citrus fruits in a Sicilian fruit stand

During their 250-year reign of the island, Arabs introduced many new plants; citrus trees were cultivated on a wide scale. The aroma of their blossoms lingers to this day. Buckwheat, saffron, almonds, and pistachios helped infuse the cuisine of the island with an unmistakable Arab touch; as a result, the foods of Sicily are spicier, sweeter, more adventurous than those of mainland Italy. And these ingredients are found in cannoli.

Requirements for a "Perfect" Cannoli

  • A delicate, tender pastry shell fried perfectly golden; if cooked correctly it should never be oily. The shell should shatter the moment you bite into it.
  • Silky smooth filling, not overly sweet. The taste is slightly tangy from sheep's milk ricotta.

How to Make Cannoli

Authentic Sicilian Cannoli

In the above video Chef Billy Parisi shows us step-by-step how to make perfect, authentic Sicilian cannoli. A list of all the ingredients and written instructions are here.

Lemon Ricotta Cannoli With Pistachio and Pine Nuts

Lemon Ricotta Cannoli With Pistachio and Pine Nuts

Lemon Ricotta Cannoli With Pistachio and Pine Nuts

The Arab influence on Sicilian desserts certainly shines through in these lemon ricotta cannoli with pistachios. This particular style of cannoli comes from Catania, a small village near Bronte where the best pistachios grow.

Healthy Baked Cannoli

Healthy Baked Cannoli

Homemade Baked Cannoli

This baker, the Carb Diva, has a confession to make—I have a fear of frying. Well, actually I'm not afraid of deep-frying, but if given the chance to use a healthier option, that is what I will do. These homemade baked cannoli were created by Rosemary Molloy who a little over 25 years ago left friends, family, and a successful career in Toronto to start a new life in the eternal city of Rome. Only love could make one make such a move. They are still in love, but Rosemary discovered another passion in Italy—the food.

Over the years she has learned the best of authentic Italian cooking and puts her own creative and healthy spin on those dishes. One of those is these beautiful baked cannoli.

Gluten-Free Cannoli Shells

Gluten-Free Cannoli Shells

Gluten-Free Cannoli Shells

My Godson is allergic to gluten, and so I'm always on the lookout for gluten-free options for foods. These gluten-free cannoli shells are made from standard ingredients every GF cook will have in their pantry. They are as crisp and flaky as the "real thing."

Vegan Cannoli

Vegan Cannoli

Vegan Cannoli

Whenever possible, I search for vegan options for my friends who avoid animal products or are allergic to dairy products. Although not "authentic," these vegan cannoli are creamy and crispy. Silken tofu helps create the smooth, rich filling and egg roll wrappers make a delicate crispy shell.

Cannoli Bites

Cannoli Bites

Cannoli Bites

All the flavors of cannoli, in oven-baked treats. Cannoli bites are oven-baked (not fried) and a perfect one-serving size. There are so many ways to decorate these little desserts; pipe a rosette of whipped cream on top, drizzle with chocolate, adorn with mini chocolate chips, or dip the edges of the cups into melted chocolate.

Cannoli Cheesecake

Cannoli Cheesecake

Cannoli Cheesecake

This is not your typical Philly cream cheese cheesecake; the traditional flavors of ricotta, mascarpone, orange, chocolate, and cinnamon are blended in this cannoli cheesecake to create a masterpiece dessert for family and friends.

Keep in mind that making a cheesecake is a labor of love—plan to make this cake the day before you plan to serve it. Chilling in the refrigerator for at least four hours and up to 24 is a must.


  • The word cannoli comes from canna, the name of the river reeds originally used to form the pastry cylinders. (Today we use metal tubes).
  • Cannoli is actually the plural form of the Italian word cannoli, but in English, we call one or more cannoli.
  • The largest cannolo weighed 262.5 pounds (holy cannoli!) and was created by the makers of Galbani cheese and the Golden Cannoli Shells Company at the Feast of Little Italy Festival in Jupiter, Florida, on November 9, 2014.
  • June 16 is National Cannoli Day.


© 2021 Linda Lum


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 11, 2021:

Thank you Liza. What a wonderful experience. I have visited Italy several times; I can't begin to imagine how great it would be to live there.

Liza from USA on August 11, 2021:

Yummy! I have had an amazing opportunity to eat authentic Sicilian cannoli whilst I was a student in Italy. However, the first thing that came up in my head when it comes to Sicily is my favorite movie The Godfather. I'm glad you've mentioned it in the article. Great article!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 10, 2021:

Thanks Sis. I hadn't thought of Sicilian pizza. What's wrong with me?

No cannolis for us in the near future unless I can stuff them with blueberries. (We have a ton of berries out there).

I love the way that they love each other. When the photos are available I'll send a few to you.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 10, 2021:

Linda, I love the history you present here. When I think of Sicily, I think of Sicilian pizza.

The cannoli cheesecake appeals to me the most. But I'll just drool over the pic rather than fight the pounds it would undoubtedly put back on my hips!

Congrats to Megan and Sean. I hope their marriage lasts as long as yours and Bill's. And congrats on your 40th wedding anniversary. Perhaps celebrate with a cannoli?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 09, 2021:

Flourish, don't pick favorites. Make them all?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 09, 2021:

Ravi, thank you so much for your kind words. I hope you have a wonderful day.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 09, 2021:

Oh me oh my does this sound and look perfect! I hope I can choose more than one.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on August 08, 2021:

I enjoyed the bit of history you added here about Sicily is surely a place abounding in history and of course great food. The Cannoli you have described here is surely easy to make and is very delicious.THanks for this great share.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 08, 2021:

Misbah, I am so supremely happy to hear from you. I am glad you enjoyed the article. Thank you for your kind words. As I am reading this it is 8pm and we have just returned home from a very full and very happy day. It was a perfect day.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on August 08, 2021:

Hi Linda, I enjoyed reading the history as well as all of the recipes. Lemon Ricotta Cannoli with Pistachio and Pine Nuts is my favorite version. On your daughter's wedding, I wish you and your family much love and happiness. May God bless you all. Ameen!

Blessings and Love

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 08, 2021:

Thank you for your kind words Manatita. The intro is the part I enjoy the most. The rest is just icing on the cake. Yes, all weather forecasts point to a bit of drizzle in the morning and sunshine by noon. The wedding is at 1 pm. Thank you for your kind thoughts for my daughter Megan and her beau Sean.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 08, 2021:

Rosina, baked cannoli are on my to-do list. Thank you for your comments.

manatita44 from london on August 08, 2021:

Job well done! Especially after looking at that video! This guy really loves his work!

Don't ever stop those intros. You inimitable style is superb, but yes, we learn a lot too. Happy marriage to your daughter, Meghan, is it? I pray for good weather. Peace!

Rosina S Khan on August 08, 2021:

I am not sure if I tasted Cannoli before, Linda. But healthy baked cannoli and cannoli cheesecake sure seem tempting. I loved the history too. Sicily somehow reminds me of the Chinese restaurant near our previous old home in the city. LOL!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 07, 2021:

Bill, I agree; I don't like the heat but am happy for no rain tomorrow. Megan's getting married!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 07, 2021:

Never had one, but they look pretty good. I'm blown away that there are five million people on that island. I had no idea it was that populated. Sheez, the cool things one learns by reading articles written by a quality writer.

Happy Saturday, my friend. I am not happy about the predictions of heat next week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 07, 2021:

Thanks, John. Everyone has their own vision of what Sicily means (or could mean) to them. My geologist husband will search out the volcanoes (working on Mt. St. Helens during its eruptive phase wasn't enough for him apparently). I'll stick with my cannoli.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 07, 2021:

Linda, to be honest, I have never tried cannoli. These do look delicious though. When I hear “Sicily” I think of the Mafia and a rhyme my mother used to say, “Big footed Italy kicked poor Sicily right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.” Thanks for sharing.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 07, 2021:

Pamela, I'm certain that Sicily would be a beautiful place to visit, but my foreign travel days are over. We can still dream though, right?

Thank you for your kind words. May you have a blessed weekend.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 07, 2021:

Denise, I'm afraid I'm filling up your kitchen with gadgets, aren't I? First,it was the madeleine pans, and now this. I think the vegan filling in a baked cannoli would be great (I don't like really sweet desserts). Blessings on your day.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 07, 2021:

How fabulous are these? I don't know if I ever had cannoli before but they look amazing. The vegan version is great. Here is another kitchen gadget I'm going to have to buy: cannoli forms. Thanks for the history lesson.



Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 07, 2021:

I have made cheesecake, but I thought cannolis were only something to be purchased at Italian bakeries, :)

This is such an interesting article, Linda. I love all the fun facts about Sicily, and it is a place I would love to visit.

I do appreciate all of these recipes, and I am going to take a closer look at several of them. Thank you for another terrific article!

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