Interesting facts about cannoli

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Cannoli are sweet Italian pastries.

They originated from the provinces of Palermo and Messina on the island of Sicily.

Cannoli were historically prepared as a treat during Carnevale season, possibly as a fertility symbol.

The dessert eventually became a year-round staple in Sicily.

Cannoli are also popular in Italian-American cuisine.

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Most cannoli consist of tube-shaped shells of deep fried pastry dough that are then filled with a slightly sweet and creamy filling, that’s usually made from ricotta cheese. Small pieces of candied fruits, particularly lemon, orange, citron and cherry, are sometimes mixed into the creamy filling. Some chefs prefer pistachios or chocolate chips.

They range in size from “cannulicchi”, no bigger than a finger, to a hotdog proportions typically found south of Palermo in Piana degli Albanesi.

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Back in the I century BC, Cicero already praised the precursor of cannoli, describing them as a “a tube-shaped waffle containing a sweet filling made from milk”. Ricotta cheese was surely the sweet filling he mentioned but at that time honey was used as a natural sweetener.

It was Arabs that brought brown sugar to Sicily and since then sugar has been used as a sweetener in confectionery, including cannoli.

During the Arab period (827 – 902 AD), in the neighbourhood of present-day Caltanissetta, the women of the harem got inspired by Cicero’s pastry and mixed it with an Arab recipe made of almonds to create a treat in honour of their men.

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Nowadays we can trace the Arab origins of cannoli in similar sweets coming from the Islamic world such as Zainab’s fingers, whose ancient version resembles the shape of cannoli, and qanawāt, deep fried tubes whose name literally means “canal”, thus reinforcing the etymological bond with the Sicilian pastry.

In Italian, cannoli is a plural name whose singular form is cannolo.

Cannolo is a diminutive of canna, ‘cane’ or ‘tube’.

The word cannoli has been incorporated into English language without much change. The form cannolis as a very rare plural form, but also cannolo is widely accepted as a singular form.

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The largest cannolo weighs 119.069 kg (262.5 lb) and was achieved by Lactalis American Group, Inc., makers of Galbani cheese, and Golden Cannoli Shells Company (both USA) at the Feast of Little Italy Italian Festival in Jupiter, Florida, USA, on 9 November 2014.

Restaurateur and Chef Jasper Mirabile Jr. has created the world’s most decadent, exclusive, delicious, but also expensive cannoli ever made. The base is made of rich dark chocolate, a whipped ricotta cheese filing mixed with candied lemon, chocolate and lemon peel. All these wrapped in gold leaf. It costs $26,010.

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