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A basic cannolo lightly sprinkled with confectioner's sugar
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|fried pastry dough, ricotta filling|
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Cannoli are Sicilian pastry desserts. The singular is cannolo (or in the Sicilian language cannolu), meaning "little tube", with the etymology stemming from the Latin "canna", or reed. Cannoli originated in Sicily and are a staple of Sicilian cuisine. They are also popular in Italian American cuisine. In Italy, they are commonly known as "cannoli siciliani", Sicilian cannoli.
Cannoli consist of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta. They range in size from "cannulicchi", no bigger than a finger, to the fist-sized proportions typically found south of Palermo, Sicily.
Cannoli come from the Palermo area and were historically prepared as a treat during Carnevale season, possibly as a fertility symbol; one legend assigns their origin to the harem of Caltanissetta. The dessert eventually became a year-round staple throughout Italy.
The versions with which Americans are most familiar tend to involve variations on the original concept. This is possibly due to adaptations made by Italians who emigrated to the United States in the early 1900s and discovered limited availability of certain ingredients. The cannoli sold in Italian-American bakeries today usually still contain ricotta, but mascarpone is a less-common alternative. Rarely, the filling is a simple custard of sugar, milk, and cornstarch. In either case, the cream is often flavored with vanilla or orange flower water and a small amount of cinnamon. Chopped pistachios, semi-sweet chocolate pieces, and candied citrus peel or cherries are often still included, dotting the open ends of the pastries. Today some companies are expanding on the cannolo, filling it with Nutella, peanut butter and other non-traditional ingredients.