Sicilian Cannoli: History, Information, Interesting Facts

Sicilian Cannoli: history, information, interesting facts


Cannoli are probably the most typical pastries of the Sicilian tradition. Establishing with precision their origins is not easy: we know for sure that they belong to a very distant past. Suffice it to say that it was the year 70 BC when, in one of his writings, the famous Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero described a very similar dessert. So, let’s study the history of this delicious specialty, let’s examine its recipe, let’s visit its places finding out its many variants.

Sicilian Cannoli: Cicero's dessert (img-07)


The origin of the name ‘Cannolo’.

Where does the name ‘cannolo’ (*1) come from? There are two hypotheses. The first one, the most credible, suggests that it comes from ‘canna’, the Italian for river cane: this was once used to roll the dough to make the ‘scorza’ (*2), also known as ‘buccia’ (peel). Nowadays, for hygiene reasons, canes have been replaced by special steel cylinders. They are probably more healthy and practical, but also much less ‘romantic’.

Sicilian Cannoli: Cannolo, the origin of the name. Sicilian Cannoli: Cannolo, the origin of the name.

The second hypothesis derives from a legend. It is said that once upon a time, during the Carnival, some cream mysteriously came out from the tap of a fountain, whose Italian translation is also ‘canna’. In truth, it was just a joke, a little trick devised to make fun of a passer-by. Many think this is how the famous dessert got its name (*3).

*1: In the Italian language, ‘Cannoli’ is the plural of ‘Cannolo’.
*2: The ‘scorza’ is also known as ‘scoccia’ or ‘scorcia’.
*3: Some people claim that this joke led not only to the invention of the name but also of the pastry itself.

Sicilian Cannoli.

WebFoodCulture: the most typical specialties, the most traditional restaurants and producers.

The most typical specialties, the most traditional restaurants and producers.


The history of Sicilian Cannoli.

Sicilian Cannoli: Marcus Tullius Cicero and Cannoli (img-03)

It’s very difficult to determine with precision the real origins of the delicious dessert known as ‘Cannolo’: that’s most probably because Sicily, the Italian island usually considered its birthplace, over the centuries was subjected to the domination and to the cultural influence of many civilizations very different from each other.
If on one hand this clearly represents a source of enrichment, on the other it causes great confusion.
Here follow some of the most interesting theories:

Cicero’s Cannoli:

According to historians, something very similar to a Cannolo already existed in the Roman period. In 70 BC, in one of his literary works, the great orator Marcus Tullius Cicero mentioned a:

“tubus farinarius, dulcissimo, edulio ex lacte factus”

(“A tube prepared with flour and stuffed with a very sweet filling made of milk”)

These words prove that a ‘primordial’ form of this pastry could date back to the Classical Age.

Read more
Sicilian Cannoli: The Harem Bath (img-05)

Cannoli and concubines:

Many think that the first Cannoli were invented in a harem located in Qalc’at al-Niss, the ‘City of Women’, today’s Caltanissetta. According to this theory, they were prepared by the concubines of a Saracen emir, probably inspired by a recipe belonging to the Arab culinary tradition (*1).

Cannoli and nuns:

According to another theory, Cannoli were invented by a group of nuns. It’s probably not a coincidence that their convent was right in Caltanissetta. They used to make this delicacy during the Carnival.

Nuns and concubines:

Some historians believe that, when the Normans expelled the Saracens from Sicily, a few concubines escaped from the harem in Qalc’at al-Niss and took refuge in the local convent, where they converted to Christianity and formed a deep bond with the nuns. If this fact could be proved, Cannoli would probably be the result of a mix between the Arab and the Roman / Classic culinary traditions.

*1: The ancestor of the Cannolo could be the ‘Qanawat’, a pastry from the homonymous village of Syria.

Sicilian Cannoli: Inspecting New Arrivals (img-04)


The ingredients of Sicilian Cannoli.

Even if in Sicily Cannoli have a common, basic recipe, it’s important to notice that there are actually some differences, depending on the province where they are prepared.

Here follows a list of the ingredients most frequently used and some possible alternatives:

The ingredients for the ‘scorza’:

The ‘scorza’, the container, is prepared using a dough made with flour, lard, sugar and wine (generally Marsala). Once the dough has risen, it’s stretched and cut in small discs: these are rolled on metal cylinders and finally fried in lard or olive oil until an even browning is achieved.

Main ingredients:

  • Flour;
  • Lard (*1);
  • Sugar;
  • Salt;
  • Marsala wine;

Alternative ingredients (less used):

  • Honey (instead of sugar and lard);
  • Butter (instead of lard);
  • Cacao (optional);
  • Eggs (optional);
  • Vinegar (optional);

*1: In the city of Palermo, lard is also known as ‘saimi’: this term comes from the word ‘saim’, once used by the Spaniards.

Sicilian Cannoli: the 'scorza'.

The ingredients of the filling:

The main ingredient for the filling of a Cannolo is ricotta cheese, made exclusively with sheep’s milk. The only exception are the Cannoli prepared in the city of Ragusa, where vaccine milk is used instead. Sometimes the filling is enriched with chocolate drops or different types of candied fruit.

Main Ingredients:

  • Ricotta cheese (*1);
  • Sugar;
  • Vanilla;

Other possible ingredients:

  • Cinnamon (optional);
  • Dark chocolate drops (optional);
  • Candied fruit (optional);

Sicilian Cannoli: the filling.

The toppings:

When a Cannolo is ready, it’s usually dusted with a thin veil of powdered sugar.
Its sides can be garnished in different ways. The toppings most frequently used are:

  • Candied oranges;
  • Candied cherries;
  • Chopped pistachios;
  • Hazelnuts;


The filling for Sicilian Cannoli.

Sicilian Cannoli: Filling a Cannolo.

One of the most important characteristics of a very good Cannolo is the balance between the crispness of its container, the ‘scorza’, and the softness of its filling, the ‘farcitura’. The right combination of these two different textures is a fundamental feature of this pastry, something that must be achieved and preserved at all costs, especially by preventing the moisture of ricotta cheese from softening the waffle. That’s why the best Cannoli should be filled just a few minutes before they are served.
In case this dessert is not going to be eaten immediately, some pastry shops prefer to sell the ‘scorza’ and the ‘farcitura’ separately: this way their customers can combine the two parts when it’s needed. Some other shops use a different method, by covering the inner surface of the scorza with a thin layer of chocolate, thus ‘shielding’ it from the moisture.


Sicilian Cannoli and pistachios.

Sicilian Cannoli: Sicilian Cannoli and pistachios.

Chopped pistachios are probably the best topping for Cannoli. Those cultivated in Bronte, a small village near the city of Catania, are particularly delicious. They come from plants growing on the rugged lava soils of Mount Etna, one of the largest volcanoes in Europe.
In 2009 the EU recognized their quality and granted them the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
In Sicilian dialect, the name for pistachio is ‘frastuca’, a word of Arab origins.


Many beautiful places, many types of Cannoli.

There are many types of Cannoli in Sicily: their differences depend on the province where they are prepared. It’s just impossible to say which one is the best: it’s just a matter of taste!
These are the most famous and appreciated:

Sicilian Cannoli: Cannoli from Piana degli Albanesi.

Cannoli from Piana:

Many ‘experts’ claim that the Cannoli from Piana degli Albanesi (*1), a small village not distant from Palermo, are the best in Sicily. A reputation due to the great skill of local bakers and to the quality of ricotta cheese (*2).

Sicilian Cannoli: Cannoli from Dattilo.

Cannoli from Dattilo:

The Cannoli from Dattilo, a village near the city of Trapani, are renown in Sicily for their great size. The ricotta cheese used for their filling is famous for its taste and flavor.

Sicilian Cannoli: Cannoli from Palermo.

Cannoli from Palermo:

Many say that the bakers of this city have ‘standardized’ the cannoli recipe and made them famous worldwide. The sides of the Cannoli from Palermo are usually garnished with candied cherries (‘cirase’).

Sicilian Cannoli: Cannoli from Catania.

Cannoli from Catania:

The delicious Cannoli prepared in Catania are usually garnished with chopped pistachios from Bronte, a small village not distant from the city. These pistachios are very famous for their great quality.

Sicilian Cannoli: Cannoli from Ragusa.

Cannoli from Ragusa.

The Cannoli prepared in Ragusa are different from the others for their very delicate taste. That’s because the ricotta used for their filling is made with vaccine instead of sheep milk.

Sicilian Cannoli: Cannoli from Messina.

Cannoli from Messina:

The typical Cannolo from Messina has a brown filling made by mixing ricotta cheese and cocoa powder. It’s usually garnished with chopped hazelnuts.

*1: Great part of the citizens of this village are descendants of a group of refugees from Albania, arrived in the Fifteenth Century fleeing from the Ottoman army invading their country. Many of them speak the language of their ancestors still today.
*2: They are also famous for their huge size.


Cicero: a great fan of Cannoli.

Sicilian Cannoli: The Young Cicero Reading (img-06)

Marcus Tullius Cicero is widely considered one of the most important orators of all time. His legendary ability derived from innate dialectical skills, improved by a deep knowledge of the Greek literature. Since he was young he had a great passion for translating ancient texts: thanks to him, the Hellenistic philosophy spread in Rome.
His enthusiastic civil commitment found its expression in the political career: the ‘cursus honorum’. In 76 BC he was appointed superintendent in Sicily: he distinguished himself as a competent and honest administrator and obtained the trust of the citizens. This is probably why he was assigned with the task of conducting the prosecution against Verre, a corrupt magistrate.
Read more

Thanks to his first noteworthy orations, the ‘Verrine’, followed a few years later by the ‘Catilinarie’, he became very famous in Rome.
During the years Cicero filled many political offices. In 63 BC he was appointed Consul.
Strong supporter of the Republic, he got the appellation of ‘Pater Patriae’ (Father of the Nation): for this reason he was profoundly hated by those pushing for the advent of the empire.
Not surprisingly, after the death of Julius Caesar, he distinguished himself as a fierce opponent of Marcus Antonius, attacking him in the speeches known as the ‘Filippiche’. This confrontation was fatal for Cicero: Antonius, as a member of the second triumvirate (*1), declared him the enemy of the State and had him killed by a group of assassins in 43 BC.

His literary works outlived him, having a great influence on many intellectuals, including humanists of the Nineteenth Century like John Locke and David Hume.

*1: The three members of the second triumvirate were: Antonius, Gaius Octavius Augustus and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.

Sicilian Cannoli: Cicero Denounces Catiline (img-01)


Sicily: the birthplace of Cannoli.

The Italian region of Sicily is an island located at center of the Mediterranean. A very fascinating place that, over the millennia, has hosted a great number of civilizations.



It’s quite difficult to determine which is the most ancient pastry shop of Palermo preparing Cannoli.

Until we find it out, please refer to the following list including some of the most traditional places.
I Segreti del Chiostro
Piazza Bellini, 33, 90133 – Palermo (Italy)
Official website
Pasticceria Cappello
Via Colonna Rotta, 68 – Palermo (Italy)
Official website
Pasticceria Oscar
Via Mariano Migliaccio, 39, 90145 – Palermo (Italy)
Official website

How Sicilian Cannoli are made (video)


How Sicilian Cannoli are made (video)

Here follows a video showing how to make Sicilian Cannoli at home.


Sicilian Cannoli: a mix of sacred and profane.

Cannolo is a pastry rich in symbolic meaning: a fascinating mix of sacred and profane.
Read more

Let’s consider, for example, its origins: some claim it was invented by the concubines of an emir, some others by the nuns of a convent. The devil and the Holy water.
Also, many think there is a resemblance between its shape and that of a penis. From this point of view, the filling would represent the female genitalia.


Sicilian music and Cannoli.

A selection of traditional Sicilian songs are most probably the best choice to accompany the reading of this article:

Note: join Spotify and listen to the full song.


The provinces of Sicily.

A simplified map of Sicily may be useful to locate the places where the best Cannoli are made. Please click on the image above to enlarge it.

WebFoodCulture: only the most typical and traditional food & wine.



The ‘Cannoli Festival’.

One of the best occasions to taste a delicious ‘Cannolo’ is without doubts the ‘Cannoli Festival’. This festival is held every year during Carnival in ‘Piana degli Albanesi’, near the city of Palermo.

Sicilian Cannoli: Poetry for a Cannolo.

“Beddi cannola di Carnilivari,
megghiu vuccuni a lu munnu un ci nn’è;
su’ biniditti spisi li dinari,
ogni cannolu è scettru di ogni Re;
arrivanu li donni a disirtari:
lu cannolu è la virga di Moisè. […] “

(Sicilian poetry, XVII century)


The ‘deconstructed’ Cannoli.

During the last few years a very special type of Cannolo has become fashionable in Sicily: it’s the ‘decontructed Cannolo’ (Cannolo ‘scomposto’).
Read more

To make it, the cylindrical waffle (‘scorza’), is cut in many pieces: these are accompanied by the same ricotta normally used for the filling, or by other creams. The dessert may be completed with different types of toppings, like, for example, chocolate sauce.

Sicilian Cannoli: Cicero about cultivation to the mind and food (img-08)

(Marcus Tullius Cicero)



‘Cannolicchi’ (or ‘cannulicchi’) are a special type of Cannoli, characterized by their small size. The most famous are prepared in the city of Palermo.

WebFoodCulture: only the most typical and traditional food & wine.



Little known facts about Sicilian Cannoli.

Here follow a few interesting facts about Sicilian Cannoli:
Read more

In Sicily, Cannoli should be given as a present to friends and relatives in a number of twelve (the months of the year) or its multiples, as a wish for good luck and prosperity.
Cannolo is one of the Italian Traditional Foods (PAT).
Cannoli were once made just during the Carnival period, nowadays they are prepared throughout the year.

Sicilian Cannoli: The right beverage for Sicilian Cannoli.


The right beverage for Sicilian Cannoli.

What to drink with some delicious Cannoli? A good choice is a sweet wine, with a good acidity and persistence. For example, Marsala or Moscato from Pantelleria.

The sweetnes balances that of the Cannolo.
The taste and smell persistence accompanies that of the Cannolo.


Click here.

The images bearing the logo ‘webfoodculture’ are copyrighted.

The following images are public domain:

img-01 (*) – Cicero Denounces Catiline, 1889 Maccari (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-02 (*) – Pool in a Harem, 1876, J.L.Gerome (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – Cicero, Visconti, 1885, University of Toronto (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-04 (*) – Inspecting New Arrivals, 1917, Rosati (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-05 (*) – The Harem Bath, R.Ernst (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-06 (*) – The Young Cicero Reading, 1464, V.Foppa (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-07 (*) – Marci Tullii Ciceronis Opera Omnia, BEIC digital library (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-08 (*) – Marcus Tullius Cicero, image scanned from a book dated 1900 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}

The following images are published courtesy of:

crt-01 – Images published courtesy of Mrs. Antonella Chiara.

The header image is pubblic domain:

Image 01 (*) – Cicero Denounces Catiline, 1889 Maccari (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}

(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.