The Sicilian cannolo, also known as “cannolo alla siciliana”, is one of the most acclaimed Sicilian desserts and a real star of the island’s culinary art and is highly esteemed and appreciated throughout the world.
Dessert of incomparable exquisiteness, the Sicilian cannolo has been deservedly included among the “food farming traditional products” of the Italian Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry Policy. It symbolizes a century-old tradition that, however, does not cease to be renewed.
The “cannolo alla siciliana” is made up of a fried and crispy wafer made with soft wheat flour, Marsala liqueur, sugar, and lard. The traditional filling consists of sifted and sweetened sheep’s ricotta cheese. Its uniqueness lies exactly in the fresh ricotta cheese, which must be Sicilian sheep’s cheese. Indeed, in Sicily, the sheep graze both on hills and near the sea and this gives the milk taste sensations rich in all the shadows of the island. Once the cannolo is filled, it is sprinkled with icing sugar over it. So, a pleasure for the palate.
But now, would you like to know 5 fun facts about the Sicilian cannolo?
Fun facts about Sicilian cannolo: from its history to its name
The 1st fun fact is that the name of the Sicilian cannolo comes from an ancient tradition: until a few decades ago, the wafer dough was rolled up around river reeds (canne in Italian), thus giving it its classic cylindrical shape. Today, however, in compliance with modern hygiene laws, the dough is wrapped in small metal tubes.
The 2nd fun fact concerns the history of the Sicilian cannolo. At the time of ancient Rome already, an ancestor of the cannolo made its first appearance. In fact, in 70 BC Cicerone spoke about a “Tubus farinarius dulcissimo edulio ex lacte fartus”, that is a tube of flour filled with soft cream of milk. However, according to the most recognized tradition, its origins have its ancient roots in the Arab domination of Sicily (from 827 to 1091) and that intertwined with myths and legends.
The Arabs innovated a lot the Sicilian cooking and it is thanks to them that today it is customary to mix ricotta cheese with sugar, a meeting of flavors that has given rise to a delicious cream that is the basis not only of the Sicilian cannolo, but also of many other traditional Sicilian desserts, such as the Sicilian cassata.
3th fun fact: the cannolo was born in the town of Caltanissetta, in the center of Sicily, then known as Qal’at al-Nissa, which translated name means “the castle of the women”. At this point, history takes different paths, one towards the sacred and the other towards the profane.
The profane story said the Sicilian cannolo was invented inside the Castle of Caltanissetta where the Emir lived with his mistresses. The women of the harem used to rejoice by cooking sweet delicacies in order to pay tribute to the Emir or to entertain during his absence. They would have used the typical Sicilian products, reinterpreting a typical dessert of the Saracen world.
The holy version, instead, makes go back the birth of the cannolo alla siciliana to a convent situated in Caltanissetta, where some funny nuns used to play jokes on turned to the novices or a priest on the occasion of the Carnival. They filled a tub with ricotta cream and replaced the water valves with the wafer of cannoli.
Whether sacred or profane, the cannolo is the symbol of the meeting of different cultures that, blending each other, have given rise to one of the major icons of Sicily. The Sicilian cannolo is born to be eaten during the festivity of the Carnival, but its goodness makes it so irresistible that it can be enjoyed at any time of the year.
Despite the controversial origins of the cannolo alla siciliana, their ingredients have not changed over time and the secret is always to add the ricotta cream at the end to keep the waffle crunchy.
Today there are several versions of this dessert: from the cannolicchi – the cannolo in reduced size – born in Palermo to the giant cannoli invented around Piana degli Albanesi.
In the west of Sicily, the Sicilian cannolo is decorated with chocolate drops and candied oranges and cherries. Instead, in the East part, it is almost always garnished with almonds and a sprinkling of pistachio grains. There are also variations in the filling for those who do not like ricotta cream. For example, the pastry chefs of Messina invented the “black” cannoli filled with chocolate cream; but you can also find it with crème patissière, pistachio, or hazelnut cream. Recently it has also been invented the split cannolo’s version, e.g., just assembled in a different way but with the same ingredients as the traditional recipe to savor it at the end of the meal.
The 4th fun fact about the Sicilian cannolo is a tribute to it: a weather balloon was launched into the stratosphere in 2014 with the reproduction of this delicious dessert. And there’s more than that! Since 2021 the Sicilian cannolo is represented on the collectible 5-euro coins.