Cannoli are a classic Italian dessert. A basic cannoli is a tube-shaped, deep fried pastry shell that is filled with a sweetened ricotta cheese mixture. They have a great combination of flavors and crisp and creamy textures. They originated in Sicily, but have a huge fan base in Italian communities all over the world. The problem with cannoli is that it can be difficult to find them if you don’t live in an area where you can easily find Italian specialty bakeries – and they tend to not be very good when you buy them from places that don’t specialize in them. They can also be a bit of a pain to make at home, since you need to do a little deep frying to get them started. I like cannoli but wanted to capture their flavor in a different format, so instead of making pastries, I made pie.
This Cannoli Pie captures the essence of all the flavors in a cannoli without the frying. The pie starts with a slightly crisp, cinnamon-kissed shortbread crust. It is filled with a mixture of ricotta cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon. The filling is extremely easy to make but it tastes fantastic when it has baked. It is almost like cheesecake, but with a little more texture to it because it uses ricotta instead of cream cheese. The vanilla and cinnamon really compliment the ricotta and pick up on the hint of cinnamon that is also in the shortbread crust. Even though it comes together easily, this pie tastes like you spent a long time putting it together.
I added mini chocolate chips to my pie because most of the cannolis I encounter have their open ends dipped in mini chocolate chips or chopped pistachios. Chocolate goes very well with this filling, so I sprinkled the mini chips on top of the pie. I wanted them to be visible, like the ones that garnish regular cannoli. A few will sink to the bottom even if you sprinkle them on top of the custard before baking, however they will all sink to the bottom if you try to stir them in to the filling.
I’ve had many cannolis that have a touch of lemon in the filling. I, personally, prefer them without the lemon, but I included a suggestion in the recipe for adding a hint of citrus to the filling of your pie if that suits your tastes. I’ll stick with the vanilla, cinnamon and a little chocolate for mine. If you want to streamline the recipe a little bit, you can use a premade graham cracker or shortbread crust instead of my homemade crust recipe, or you can use a blind-baked pastry crust instead.
Once the pie has been baked and cooled, the leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator. Since the filling for this pie is a custard, the crust will start to soften slightly once it has been refrigerated, so it will loose a little of its crisp cannoli shell-like quality. Fortunately, it still tastes great and the edges of the crust should stay crispy even if you end up storing leftovers for a couple of days.