[kuh-noh-lee; It. kahn-naw-lee]
Cannoli, Cannola (plural) in Sicilian, are Sicilian pastry desserts. The singular is cannolo, meaning “little tube”, with the etymology stemming from the Latin "canna", or reed. Cannoli originated in Sicily and are an essential part of Sicilian cuisine. They are also popular in Italian American cuisine and in America are known as a general Italian pastry, while they are specifically Sicilian in origin.

Cannoli consist of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta cheese (or alternatively, but less traditionally, sweetened Mascarpone) blended with some combination of vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, Marsala wine, rosewater or other flavorings. Some chefs add chopped succade or chocolate chips. They range in size from "cannulicchi", no bigger than a finger, to the fist-sized proportions typically found in Piana degli Albanesi, south of Palermo, Sicily. Sometimes cannolis can be found with the shells dipped in chocolate, in addition to being stuffed with filling.


Originating in the Palermo area, cannoli were historically prepared as a treat during Carnevale season, possibly as a fertility symbol; one legend assigns their origin to the harem of Caltanissetta. The dessert eventually became a year-round staple throughout what is now Italy. As with Sicilian cassata, Sicilian cannoli probably date back to the time of Arab domination.

Italian-American variants

The versions Americans are most familiar with tend to involve variations on the original concept. This is possibly due to adaptations made by Italians who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1900s and discovered limited availability of certain ingredients. The cannoli sold in Italian-American bakeries today usually still contain ricotta, but mascarpone is a less common alternative. Sometimes the filling is a simple custard of sugar, milk, and cornstarch. In either case, the cream is often flavored with vanilla or orange flower water and a light amount of cinnamon. Chopped pistachios, semi-sweet chocolate bits, and candied citrus peel or cherries are often still included, dotting the open ends of the pastry. Jimmies are sometimes used as a garnish for cannoli in the United States.

Making The Cannoli

The shell is a dough made of flour, butter, sugar and other ingredients. It is formed into an oval, wrapped around a dough ring and fried. The cream filling is simpler and includes powdered sugar and ricotta cheese. The shells can be filled with creme by using a spoon or pastry bag. If not served quickly, the shells will lose their crispy texture.

In popular culture

  • Cannoli are mentioned in a famous line from the film The Godfather by Peter Clemenza, whose wife asked him to bring home a few. A planned murder takes place during the outing, and while Clemenza and Rocco Lampone are preparing to depart the scene, he instructs: "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
  • In Gilmore Girls (episode "It Should've Been Lorelai"), Lorelai Gilmore suggests sitting at the back table so that no one can "whack you with a cannoli."
  • This line is parodied in an episode of Shadow Raiders. But in the Shadow Raiders universe, Cannoli are large grub-like creatures, which apparently serve the same function for the residents of Planet Bone.
  • Another parody of the line is found in a "Tony Pajamas" sketch on The Amanda Show, in which Tony's pal Paulie (Josh Peck) is hit by an egg and Tony (Drake Bell) instructs his bodyguards to "Leave Paulie. Take the cannoli."
  • Another parody was in the TV show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations in the New Jersey episode, in which, after ordering a dozen cannoli from a local Italian pastry shop, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, and a pastry chef are driving to another restaurant and Batali stops by the side of the road ostensibly to urinate while the pastry chef assassinates Bourdain. The episode ends with Bourdain slumped over the steering wheel of his car while Batali says "leave the gun, take the cannoli."
  • This line is also discussed by Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in the romantic comedy You've Got Mail as a response to what one learns from The Godfather.
  • In Mobsters and Mormons, this line is parodied by saying "Leave the gun. Take the granola."
  • Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World (Touchstone, 2003; ISBN 0-7432-0540-5) is the title of an essay collection by author Sarah Vowell.
  • In the 3rd Rock from the Sun episode "Dick the Vote", the Solomon family is accused of being mobsters by a smear campaign during Harry's run for City Council. In an effort to appease "Don Solomon", one of Dick's students offers him a cannoli (which Dick later sits on by accident).
  • In The Godfather Part III Connie (Talia Shire) kills Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) with a poisoned cannolo.
  • In Death Wish V: The Face of Death, Charles Bronson uses a cannoli laced with poison to kill a mobster who helped murder his fiancee.
  • In the HBO series The Sopranos, the main character, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), shows a regular taste for cannoli, occasionally making the dessert part of the plot.
  • Frank Barone (Peter Boyle) of Everybody Loves Raymond is regularly accused by his family of eating up all the cannoli made by his wife Marie.
  • In the movie Demolition Man the life of main character John Spartan (played by Sylvester Stallone) is saved during a car wreck by a fictional foam-like substance which rapidly fills the car's passenger compartment. He says a minute later, "All of a sudden, this car turned into a cannoli."
  • Ben & Jerry's Ice cream offered "Holy Cannoli" flavor ice cream. The description was "Creamy Ricotta & Pistachio Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Cannolis & Roasted Pistachios". It has since been retired, but does reappear every so often when B&J's brings back retired flavors for limited runs.
  • The Häagen Dazs Ice Cream Company had a new flavor contest in 2006 with Cannoli as one of the finalists. It eventually lost to Sticky Toffee Pudding.
  • In Curious George, George solves a mystery and is rewarded with cannoli.
  • On an episode of the TV show Just Shoot Me (season 6, episode 2) Elliot (Enrico Colantoni) forbids his boss, Jack (George Segal), from eating his cannoli.
  • In The Departed, Billy (Leonardo Di Caprio) sarcastically asks the mobsters at a grocery store fight scene whether they are selling cannolis or something.
  • During a heated argument in Boiler Room, between a Jewish-American character (Nicky Katt) and an Italian-American (Vin Diesel), Katt's character asks "Don't you have a cannoli you can stick in your mouth?" (To which Diesel's character retorts, "Don't you have a menorah you could shove up your ass?")


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