Surprisingly Healthy Cannoli

A Cannoli is a traditional Italian dessert and is considered to be the quintessential Sicilian treat.  The word Cannoli loosely means “little tube”.  Traditional cannolis are made by filling a deep fried pastry dough with a sweet ricotta cheese filling.  Because of its ingredients and how they are prepared, cannolis can be extra rich.

Since I was a young child, if a cannoli was offered on the dessert menu I would certainly be ordering it.  I loved the contrast of the crunchy outside against the soft texture inside.  Once I started my venture down the healthy road, I quickly realized that cannolis would not be the best dessert choice for me to order.   Because I missed that classic cannoli taste and texture, I was determined to revamp the traditional cannoli and make it available for me to once again enjoy guilt free.  The healthy cannoli recipe I have created has 81% less calories, 95% less fat and 92% less sugar than a traditional cannoli (see nutritional comparison at the bottom of this recipe page).

Traditional cannolis are made with a ricotta cheese, which is a relatively healthy cheese, but the cheese is sweetened with large amounts of sugar and thickened with heavy cream.  At first I figured I would just use part skim ricotta cheese and not add any cream.  However, as I was thumbing through the ricotta cheeses available at the grocery store, the cottage cheese containers caught my eye.  One cottage cheese in particular stood out to me.  It is by far my favorite cottage cheese and it offers the same (if not better) consistency as ricotta cheese.  The brand of cottage cheese I love is by Friendship All Natural.  The Friendship All Natural 1% cottage cheese, has half the calories, a WHOLE less fat (1 gram compared to 10 grams) and more protein than part skim ricotta cheese.

If you follow this recipe I highly suggest using the Friendship All Natural brand cottage cheese.  It is made differently than most other cottage cheeses.  Their cottage cheese is the closest I have found to a ricotta cheese type consistency.  Other cottage cheeses have more water (or whey) and thus they produce a less than stable cannoli.  Furthermore, the Friendship All Natural brand cottage cheese is made with just milk.  Other cottage cheese brands add a good amount of additives including stabilizers, gums, artificial ingredients and preservatives.

The inside of a traditional cannoli filling is sweet.  The sweetness usually comes from added sugar.  For my healthy cannoli recipe, I substituted the sugar with pure Stevia extract.  If you are not fond of Stevia I have included alternate ingredients in the recipe for you to choose from.  The other ingredients in a traditional cannoli filling are vanilla extract and a touch of lemon juice.  Both the vanilla extract and lemon juice are great ingredients so I have kept them in my healthy cannoli recipe.

The next part of the traditional cannoli recipe for me to tackle was the outside crunchy shell.  This part of the recipe I knew would be harder to make healthy than the inside cannoli filling. Seeing that the traditional cannoli is deep fried I figured I would see if I could make a shell that was baked instead.  I researched and collected numerous cannoli shell recipes.  I thought if I found a recipe I liked I could bake the dough and it would have a similar taste to its deep fried shell counterpart.  However, I was quickly discouraged by the cannoli shell recipes I found.

In order to make a pastry crunchy you typically have to use some sort of butter or oil in the dough.  Many of the recipes I found had a large amount of butter and/or oil.  My usual go to butter replacement is unsweetened applesauce.  Unsweetened applesauce makes a wonderful butter replacement in baked goods.  It adds an amazing level of moisture and a touch of sweetness that works great for most recipes.  Since the cannoli shell needed to have a certain level of crunch, I knew that adding unsweetened applesauce would not be a good idea since the moisture level would be too high.  I did not want my cannoli shell to be a floppy shell, it had to have crunchy texture.

I spent a good amount of time trying different substitutions for the butter in my healthy cannoli recipe.  Some were good, but most were complete failures.  I honestly thought I would not be able to create a healthy cannoli shell and was almost at the point of giving up.  Then one morning I was making my healthy crepe for breakfast.  As I was rolling up the crepe I thought to myself, what would happen if I made a thinner, smaller crepe and baked it?  Would it have the same pastry crunch appeal of the traditional cannoli shell?  I quickly took my healthy crepe recipe, added more almond milk and created a small crepe.  I then took the crepe, formed a cannoli roll, sprayed it with some coconut oil and baked it.  The resulting baked crepe was amazing close to the traditional crunchy cannoli shell.  I was beyond excited!  I had finally nailed a healthy version of the traditional cannoli shell.

For the cannoli shell, I have used all purpose flour.  Traditionally I try to substitute all purpose flour with a variety of other more nutritious flours like whole wheat flour, soy flour, brown rice flour, etc.  However, after many tests and trails, I found that all purpose flour works for the best for this recipe.  All purpose flour has a light, subtle flavor profile that works perfect for making the cannoli shell in this recipe.

If you are like me and don’t have a professionally stocked kitchen, than you most likely do not have a cannoli roll.  A cannoli roll is traditionally made of stainless steel and it is what is used to hold the cannoli dough in a tube form while it is deep fried.  If you plan on making a lot of cannolis or really want to go that extra mile, you can purchase cannoli rolls online through several vendors.  Cannoli rolls are actually fairly inexpensive, so for some it is an easy purchase.  I, however, always like to try to see what I already have in my kitchen before I purchase specialty kitchen tools such as the cannoli roll.  For this cannoli recipe I found that a tall glass shot glass works perfectly to hold the cannoli dough in shape while it bakes.

The recipe below makes about 6 cannolis (depending on size).  The flavor of the cannoli can be altered with several different mix in ideas.  Some traditional cannoli recipes use ground cinnamon.  If you want to add cinnamon to your cannoli, I recommend using 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.  You can also add mini chocolate morsels to the filling (either milk or dark chocolate).

Surprising Healthy Cannoli Filling

1 cup of 1% Friendship All Natural cottage cheese

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon pure Stevia extract (or 2 tablespoons cane sugar or coconut sugar)

1/4 teaspoon freeze squeezed lemon juice

a dash of salt

Optional ingredients (1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and/or 3 tablespoons of mini chocolate morsels)

Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  Store, covered, in the refrigerator while the cannoli shells are made (recipe and instructions below).

Surprising Healthy Cannoli Shell

1/2 cup of all purpose flour

3/4 cup of almond milk

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 small egg white (or egg replacement like Ener-G Egg Replacer, for a vegan recipe)

a dash of pure Stevia extract (optional or use 1 tablespoon of sugar)

6 tall shot glasses (or a cannoli roll) 

Preheat over to 425 degrees.  Spray 6 tall shot glasses (or cannoli roll) with oil and set aside.  Combine all ingredients in a food processor/blender. Blend on high for about a minute. Let the batter settle for a couple minutes, this will help the bubbles in the batter dissipate. Heat a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Spray a cooking spray, of your choice, covering the bottom of the pan. I prefer to use spray coconut oil but any spray oil will do. Wipe the oil around the pan to ensure even coverage. Pour about 3 tablespoons worth of batter into the center of the saucepan. Swirl the saucepan around so that the batter forms a circle in the bottom of pan.

This is a technique that is hard to get right on your first try. However, once you get the technique right, it is just like riding a bike and you will be able to do it perfectly every time. Let the spread out batter cook for a couple minutes. You will see the batter turn from a shiny liquid to a more matte finished crepe. Check the underside of the crepe and once it appears lightly brown (about 2 to 3 minutes) you can remove the crepe from the pan using a wide spatula.

Allow crepe to cool for just a second and then wrap the dough around the oiled shot glasses.  Press firmly on the seal to create a good fit.  Place the wrapped shot glasses on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Spray the outsides of the cannoli dough with oil.  Place the cannolis in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes (or until slightly golden brown).  Continuously check on the cannolis to ensure they do not get too brown.  After the cannolis have baked, remove them from the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Using oven mitts (shot glasses or roll will be hot), carefully slide the baked cannoli off of the shot glasses (or cannoli roll).  Allow the cannoli shell to cool completely, on a cooling rack, before filling.  

To fill the cannoli you can either use a pastry bag or plastic bag with one of the corners cut off.   It is best that you fill the cannolis right before you serve them.  This will ensure that the filling does not have a chance to sit in the shell for too long causing the shell to get mushy.  Once you are ready to fill the cannolis, remove the cannoli filling from the refrigerator.  Place the filling in a pastry bag or plastic bag.  Fill the cannolis starting from one side and then the other so that the cannoli has filling throughout the entire shell.  The finished cannoli can be served as is or topped with melted chocolate.      

Nutritional comparison 

Traditional cannoli per serving

374 calories

17 grams of fat (7 grams of saturated fat)

1 gram of fiber

34 grams of sugar

10 grams of protein

Surprisingly Healthy Cannoli per serving 

73.3 calories

0.8 grams of fat (0.1 grams of saturated fat)

0.7 grams of fiber

2.8 grams of sugar

7.1 grams of protein


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