HAPPY NATIONAL CANNOLI DAY! Join us as we celebrate the lovely dessert tubes of flavor! Today we’re partying with dessert fan and one-time attempted cannoli chef Kevin Scott Brown (@truerealkevin on twitter)!! LET’S PARTY!!

Show Notes

back to the top

Definition/history of the topic

  • According to Wikipedia, cannoli are italian pastries that originated on the island of Sicily and are today a staple of Sicilian cuisine. They consist of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta
    • Though there are variations in recipes, the traditional cannoli consists of the fried tube-shaped shell, filled with the ricotta, candied fruit, and chocolate filling
    • Sizes range from about finger-sized to the large versions typically found south of Palermo, in Piana degli Albanesi, which is a commune with about 6K inhabitants
    • In mainland Italy, they are commonly referred to as cannoli siciliani
  • Cannoli is grammatically plural, and the corresponding singular is cannolo, meaning “little tube”, as cannolo is a diminutive of canna (‘cane’ or ‘tube’). In English, cannoli is more usually used as a singular, while cannolo is rare
    • Canna is also a variety of cane reed, which were originally employed in achieving the cylindrical forms for making cannoli shells
  • According to Allison Scola, in her article, “I Cannoli: Nothing Better in the World”, the dough for cannoli shells generally varies in four major aspects: by the type of wine or wine vinegar included; whether cocoa powder or cinnamon is used; whether butter or shortening is the fat of choice, and whether eggs are in or out. However, some chefs will use both cinnamon and cocoa powder, or neither; use olive oil, vegetable oil, or pure porky lard rather than butter or shortening
    • A great shell is all about texture, which means taking on the task of passing the dough through a pasta machine over and over, which ensures even distribution of the fat and helps create a smooth dough before the thin sheets are cut into the proper shapes, rolled around tubes, then deep-fried to dark golden for optimum crunch. They’re then drained of any excess oil, removed from the forms and cooled until they’re ready for the filling
  • From eater.com: Basic filling begins with high-quality ricotta cheese that is sieved extensively for smoothness. Sweetener is added to the cheese, which is typically cane sugar, but honey may be used instead. From this foundation of basic sweetened ricotta, there are a near endless possibilities for additives, including mascarpone (an italian cream cheese) whipped cream, goat cheese, vanilla or chocolate pastry cream, creme de cacao or other liqueurs, cinnamon, nutmeg oil, vanilla, jasmine extract, bittersweet chocolate, chopped pistachios, chopped croccante (almond brittle), candied orange peel, citron, and zuccata (candied pumpkin).
  • The origin of candied fruit, which is a pretty standard addition for cannoli, is a mystery, though the color and flavor likely paired well with Sicilian Carnevale celebrations
  • While there are various recipes for cannoli, there are certain elements of the dish that are dogma
    • The scorcia, or the outer layer, must be fried in lard to make it extra crunchy
    • The filling must be made exclusively with sheep ricotta, not cow ricotta
    • The size of the cannoli as well as how they are decorated come with much more freedom. They are most commonly decorated with candied fruit, but grain hazelnuts or pistachios are also used
  • Palermo invented cannolicchi, cannoli smaller than the size of a finger
  • Piana degli Albanesi saw cannoli become “giganti” or much larger than the typical 6-8 inch traditional ones
  • The cannoli in Trappani are also larger, and their filling is not as sweet as other areas. The texture of the ricotta kept “grainier” for a more rustic taste
  • Cannoli is widely believed to have originally come from the Palermo and Messina areas.  They were historically prepared as a treat during Carnevale season, possibly as a fertility symbol, as the tube shape may be traced back to human prehistory. If true, it could invoke the form of “menhirs”, which are the standing stone steles from the European middle Bronze Age and were probably fertility symbols
    • Carnevale is a traditional Western Christian festive season that marks the beginning of Lent, which is the period of 40 days before Easter during which no meat is eaten
    • The main events typically occur during February or early March, during Shrovetide (“Pre-Lent”). These usually involve public celebrations, such as parades, public street parties, combined with some elements of a circus. The celebration is well known for its elaborate costumes and masks, which allow people to set aside their everyday individuality and experience a heightened sense of social unity, as well as allowing them the freedom to do whatever is pleasurable without fear of judgment
    • It’s a very indulgent atmosphere, where participants consume excessive amounts of alcohol, meat, and other foods that will be done away with during Lent. Butter, milk, and other animal products were consumed fully rather than just excessively, in order to reduce waste.
    • Pancakes, donuts, and other desserts, such as cannoli, were eaten for the last time until Lent has passed
  • That said, references to dishes similar to cannoli can be found as far back as 70 BC, when Cicero mentions a “sweet edible tube made of flour and filled with milk cream.”
  • There are some similar desserts in Middle Eastern tradition, including Zainab’s fingers, which are filled with nuts, and qanawat, which are deep fried dough tubes filled with various sweets. 
    • In fact, cannoli were once known as cappelli di turchi, or Turkish hats, which could indicate a Sicilian belief that they were of ancient Arab origin
    • Muslim Moors first raided Sicliy in 652, seizing control of the entire island from the Byzantine Empire, which developed an Arab-Byzantine culture and produced a multiconfessional and multilingual state until the 1240s, when the last Muslim Siciians were expelled from the emirate following the conquering of the emirate by Christian Norman mercenaries in 1071.
    • A minor Arabic influence remains to this day in the Sicilian language and local place names. Other cultural remnants can be found in agriculture, architecture of the island, and food. 
    • The dish and the name likely originate from the Muslim Emirate of Sicily
  • An article from lifeinitaly.com, “The ‘Spicy’ History of Cannoli Siciliani”, offers a more salacious version of events in the timeline of the birth of this dessert
    • First, the Arab influence on cannoli is reaffirmed, stating, “…even if ricotta, the undiscussed queen of Sicilian desserts, had been known on the island for centuries, it wasn’t until the Arab domination that it began being sweetened,” given that the Moors were already familiar and heavily used sugar, which was not well known in Italy at the time. Prior to the introduction of sugar into food, the ancient Romans had known about it, but considered it medicinal and used honey and figs to sweeten their foods.
    • According to the article, culinary expert Duke Alberto Denti di Perajno once famously declared that, “cannolo can’t be a Christian dessert: its variety of flavors and its luxurious combination of ingredients betray a clear Arab origin.”
    • One theory of the dawn of cannoli puts us in Sicily, between 827 and 1091, the decades of the Arab domination of the area, there was a city called Kalt El Nissa, which is now Caltanissetta. The former, Kalt El Nissa, means “women’s castle.”
      • The town was known for its large amount of harems, where the many concubines of an Arab prince resided
      • It was here that these women created a special dessert for their prince, one that was as rich and delicious as the man that inspired them. And perhaps even as…endowed as the prince? The women apparently chose the shape and girth in tribute to their prince’s own pants cannolo
    • It wasn’t until the Arab domination in Sicily came to an end and harems were opened up that the invention of cannoli as we know came to pass
      • Many of the former concubines set out to start anew, but encountered a society bound by strict morals, one where their pasts were bound to be a blemish on their characters for the rest of their lives. It would also impede their ability to land decent work, so they sought refuge where even the poor, sick, or diseased would not be denied: convents
      • Many of them went on to join the convents as nuns, while others simply offered their help to the congregation in exchange for shelter and sustenance. It was here that the ostracized women introduced the nuns to the culinary worlds they had developed while living in harems, including cannoli
    • However, there are other historians that contend that cannoli’s origins have nothing to do with concubines at all, and tie its creation to convents only
      • According to their theory, nuns were eager to join the cheerful and cheeky atmosphere that came with the Carnivale festivities, and so made up a fountain with edible faucets, from which ricotta cream came out instead of water
    • Journalist Gaetano Basile, an expert of Sicilian popular history and author, somewhat brought these two narratives together. He believes that cannoli were, indeed, made for the first time to commemorate Carnevale by making a pastry that very blatantly alluded to male genitals
    • It is widely agreed that cannoli were “symbolic of Carnevale’s carnal and culinary debauchery”, as described by Allison Scola in her article, “I Cannoli: Nothing Better in the World”. 
  • Some fun facts from whenisholiday.com
    • Italian cuisine is the most popular in the world. According to CNN, almost a third of tourists from all over the world (32%) consider it the best
    • Cannoli is a symbol for many regions. Many students take this sweet to lectures as they believe it will bring them luck.
    • The average Italian eats over 50 lbs of sweets each year. Residents from other European countries eat about 13 lbs yearly 
    • Cannoli is one of the most popular sweets all over the world
      • I decided to fact check this. On one list by tasteatlas.com of the 100 most popular desserts in the world, cannoli was listed at #32
      • It also made onto the list of 50 of the world’s best desserts for CNN Travel, but I don’t know the ranking because they listed the desserts in alphabetical order
      • Delish.com offered an article with the best dessert in 24 countries. For Italy, they listed gelato
      • I didn’t see a single list with cannoli in the top 30
    • Cannoli is eaten in The Godfather, and in fact, one of the more famous lines from the film is “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” following a hit. The line was apparently improvised by Richard Castellano, the actor who portrayed Peter Clemenza

History/Fun facts about the holiday

  • While the earliest references to National Cannoli Day go back to 2015, I found articles calling for the celebration of National Cannoli Month, which was apparently established in 2003. However, this seems to be a holiday celebrated solely in Kansas City and was the brainchild of chef Jasper Mirabile, the owner of Jasper’s Ristorante. The restaurant was allegedly once recognized as “Kansas City’s Most Prized Restaurant”, and Time Magazine reported Jasper’s as one of the two best restaurants in the city while reporting the Republican Convention for that year…1976. Jasper’s also holds the prestige for once creating the world’s most expensive cannoli in 2011. 
    • The base was rich dark chocolate, a whipped ricotta cheese filling mixed with candied lemon, chocolate, and lemon peel. It was then wrapped in gold leaf, and comes with a diamond necklace. All told, it was priced at $26,010
  • I was unable to track down the origin of National Cannoli Day, but it does appear that the inaugural day was in 2015
  • I’m not sure why June was chosen if Carnivale is celebrated from early March to mid April

Activities to celebrate

back to the top

  • Use #CannoliDay2020 #CannoliDay2021 and #NationalCannoliDay on social media
  • Whenisholiday.com recommends capturing moments and memories to recall the date in the future
    • They also state that “apparently, the main [activity] to celebrate this day trying much delicious foods and spending your time with friends and relatives. Leave your home and go for adventures. You can either go out for a picnic taking some sweet stuff with you or visit local city festival which will give you more positive energy. The decision always depends on you. Moreover, you can stay home and try yourself in cookery finding out new recipes. Any variant you choose will bring you unforgettable memories and knowledge.”
  • Make your own! A simple homemade cannoli recipe can be found on delish.com, link in the shownotes
  • Or go get some! Whether by no-contact delivery or socially distanced in person purchase. Using reviews from Yelp, I found what may be the best places in each of our respective cities to get cannoli
    • In Sacramento, Ettores Bakery and Cafe on Fair Oaks Blvd is consistently reviewed to have well-made, authentic cannoli
    • In Seattle, the best cannoli can apparently be found at Kelly Cannoli on Lake City Way NE
  • In any case, eat hella cannoli! Before you dig in, consider reading this love letter to it first, penned by Cake Boss Buddy Valastro
    • “Dear Cannoli, I can’t quite remember the moment we met but I suspect it was something from the storybooks and I will forever be grateful for our special connection. You get me, I get you. Quality time together – what we’ve fondly called ‘snack time’ – is a symphony of opposing worlds, both crunchy and creamy.
    • “You always know just what to bring to the table and I admire your devotion to consistency. Tomorrow, June 16th, I honor you by presenting you with LOTS and LOTS of GOLD at all Carlo’s Bakery locations throughout the United States! 
    • “Thank you for being there through the good, the bad, ad the hungry. Happy National Cannoli Day, my sweet friend.
    • “Stay golden, Buddy Valastro”
    • Pastry Love by Relaxing Morning Music
    • Holy Cannoli by Walter Mitty and his Makeshift Orchestra
    • Carnevale by Danti
    • Pastry by 9MUSES
    • Ricotta Cheese Salad by SORAN
    • Palermo by Snarky Puppy
    • Medium by The Cannolis
    • Tubes by Moon Hooch
    • Mega Tubes by Moon Hooch and Alena Spanger
    • Dessert by Dawin


back to the top


back to the top