Extra Creamy Vanilla Bean Ricotta Cannoli Filling (or Dip)

Ricotta cheese is the base for pretty much one of the most famous Italian desserts or pastries: the cannoli. Whip up a batch of this ricotta cannoli filling and either pipe into cannoli shells or use as a dip for Italian cookies or pieces of cannoli shell. A little heavy cream makes this the ultimately creamy cannoli filling and a great base for any flavor you add.

white tray with ricotta cannoli some with chocolate on them.
Vanilla bean cannoli filling takes store-bought cannoli shells to first class dessert status.

I have to confess. I only eat cannoli when I’m in Italy or at an Italian restaurant where I know they’re homemade from shell to filling. Does that makes me a cannoli snob?

But—now that I’ve gotten into the regular habit of making my own homemade ricotta cheese, this creamy cannoli filling is something that is going to be on my dessert menus pretty regularly.

As the kids say or used to say: “sorry—not sorry.”

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What is cannoli?

overhead of white tray of filled cannoli and cutting board of chopped chocolate.
A tray of cannoli makes the best dessert recipe for a party.

You’ve probably been to Italian restaurants and have been offered cannoli for dessert. Cannoli is a really crispy, sweet, deep-fried pastry shell that has been formed in the shape of a tube. Picture a dried manicotti pasta noodle and you’ll get the picture.

Cannoli shells are traditionally stuffed with a rich and creamy cheese filling. You’ll see all varieties of filling but to be traditional, it’s always a ricotta cheese base.

Sometimes the ricotta is mixed with smaller amounts of ingredients like mascarpone or heavy cream (as I did in this recipe). You’ll even see cannoli with cottage cheese (no—just no), cannoli with whipped cream (that’s not cannoli) and other fillings.

For this cannoli filling recipe, I chose a more traditional route as that’s what you’d expect from a second generation Italian-American.

Other easy dessert recipes like this you’ll ♥️: amaretti cookie butter ice cream cake, Danish puff pastry, and my super creamy peanut butter mousse. Or give my amaretto semifreddo a try along with these amazing Italian lemon cookies…so good!

The best ricotta for cannoli filling

black bowl of ricotta cheese surrounded by ingredients to make cannoli dip
I love using homemade ricotta for cannoli fillling.

Ricotta cheese is the star of cannoli filling and the fresher the better.

To me, the best ricotta for cannoli filling is made with from scratch ricotta. It’s super fast to make (only 15 minutes) and produces the best results.

To ensure this cannoli filling stays thick, the ricotta cheese has to be strained to remove all the excess whey and water. Cannoli shells can go from super quick to super soggy if there’s too much water involved.

How to strain ricotta cheese

  • Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and place over a bowl deep enough to collect the water without touching the bottom of the strainer and wide enough to allow the strainer to hover over the bowl.
  • Spoon the ricotta cheese into the strainer and allow the excess whey/water to drain into the bowl at least for 2 hours or better yet overnight until the ricotta is “dry”.

Alternative ricotta options

  • Deli counter. Most grocery stores sell ricotta in the cheese section of their deli counter.
  • Ricotta con latte. Belgioso sells a super delicious ricotta con latte that is perfect for making cannoli filling. Don’t add the heavy cream if using this version as it already has cream in it.
  • Whole milk ricotta. Pass over the part-skim ricotta and go straight for the whole milk. It’s texture cannot be replicated by part-skim ricotta which is grainier.

The rest of the ingredients

  • Heavy cream. Also known as whipping cream. I just use a bit to add richness and extra creamy texture. You can also use mascarpone which is much thicker (and sweeter).
  • Two kinds of vanilla. Fresh vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract are one warmth factor.
  • Powdered sugar. Because the cream needs to be sweet. But not too sweet.
  • Pinch of salt. The secret ingredient and rounds the whole thing out.
  • Cinnamon. Optional but just a bit provides the final spicy warmth.

How to make ricotta cannoli filling

Whether you make a fresh batch of ricotta or pick some up at the store, you’ll find that making cannoli filling is super easy and a party trick your friends will appreciate.

Ricotta cheese in a cheesecloth lined strainer.
Let the ricotta drain into a cheesecloth lined strainer for at least 2 hours.
cannoli filling being mixed with powdered sugar in black bowl.
Add heavy cream and sifted powdered sugar into strained ricotta.
knife and vanilla bean on wooden board.
vanilla being mixed into cannoli filling with spatula in black bowl.
  1. Strain the ricotta in a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl for at least 2 hours and up to overnight in the fridge.
  2. Transfer the strained ricotta to a bowl and gently stir in heavy cream.
  3. Split a vanilla bean using the tip of a sharp knife. Gently open and use a spoon or knife to scrape out the seeds inside.
  4. Stir in the vanilla and sprinkle of salt.
  5. Refrigerate until ready to serve with thin almond cookies, cannoli shells or pirouette cookies.

Tips for filling cannoli shells

spatula mixing bowl of cannoli filling in black bowl.
If the ricotta has firmed up in the fridge, stir to warm up a bit.
glass with bag of cannoli filling resting in it.
Line a tall glass with a quart sized resealable bag. Spoon in cannoli filling.
Resealable bag with cannoli filling and the corner being trimmed.
Seal up the bag removing all the air and clip the corner.
wooden board with cannoli shell being filled with cannoli filling from a piping bag.
Pipe cannoli filling one end at a time to the middle.

If you don’t have a piping bag, it’s easy to make one out of a resealable bag. Here’s what you do:

Place the bag in a tall jar or glass wide enough to fold the opening of the bag over the glass. This will protect the “zipper” of the bag from getting messy with the filling.

Spoon ricotta into the bag taking care not to touch the sides of the bag too often. Lift the bag out and remove the air before carefully sealing the bag. You might have to open and close the bag a couple of times to get the air pockets out.

Carefully clip one corner at the bottom of the bag. Twist the bag right above where the filling ends and pipe the filling into one side of a cannoli shell. Turn the shell and fill the other side.

Dip each end of the shell into chopped chocolate, pistachios, or your favorite nut.

Where to buy cannoli shells

I have found that the Alessi cannoli shells are a great choice. When you buy them, shake the bag a bit to listen for any broken pieces. There are 6 in a sealed container and I used 3 bags.

Flavor options

Cinnamon adds a nice touch of warmth to ricotta cannoli dip.

Citrus. Sometimes, you’ll find lemon or orange zest in cannoli filling especially in Sicily where citrus is abundant. If you like mixing chocolate with citrus, add in a little zest.

Almond. Grate some almonds finely and use to thicken the cannoli cream filling. Also add in a drop or two of pure almond extract (it’s powerful stuff!). You can also add a little amaretto.

Mocha. Sprinkle espresso powder into vanilla before adding to the cannoli filling. Using the powder adds the mocha flavor without adding extra moisture.

Hazelnut. Frangelico liqueur and some chopped hazelnuts will add classic Italian flavor where the hazelnut is reverred.

Tips for using cannoli filling

  • Fill cannoli shells immediately before serving if possible. That will ensure the shells stay crisp.
  • If you can’t, serve the filling in a bowl, top with shaved chocolate and break the shells into large pieces to use as chips. So great to serve with cappuccinos after dinner!

Storage and freezer tips

Storage. Cannoli filling doesn’t last long. Refrigerate any leftover cannoli filling in a resealable container or bag for 2 days.

Freeze. Cannoli filling freezes really well. I recommend double bagging it in labeled freezer safe bags for a month. Defrost at room temperature and stir to combine before using.

white tray with ricotta cannoli some with chocolate on them.
5 from 2 votes

Extra Creamy Vanilla Bean Ricotta Cannoli Filling (or Dip)

Ricotta cheese is the base for pretty much one of the most famous Italian desserts or pastries: the cannoli. Whip up a batch of this ricotta cannoli filling and either pipe into cannoli shells or use as a dip for Italian cookies or pieces of cannoli shell. A little heavy cream makes this the ultimately creamy cannoli filling and a great base for any flavor you add.
Makes 2 cups of filling or dip for 18 cannoli
Prep Time:2 hours
Mixing time:2 hours
Servings 2 cups

Ingredients
 

Instructions

  • Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and line with cheesecloth.
  • Spoon ricotta in strainer and allow to sit in the refrigerator for 2 hours to drain or overnight if possible.
    2 cups homemade ricotta
  • Add ricotta to a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in heavy cream.
    Then whisk in powdered sugar (make sure it's sifted to avoid lumps).
    Run the tip of a sharp knife down the length of the vanilla bean. Split open and use a small spoon to scrape the vanilla bean into the ricotta mixture.
    Add in vanilla extract and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Stir to combine.
    ¼ cup heavy cream, ½ cup powdered sugar, 1 vanilla bean, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, pinch of kosher salt

If filling cannoli

    Notes

    use strained ricotta, mascarpone, vanilla bean, cinnamon, shaved chocolate, heavy cream, and a little Frangelico?
    Course: Appetizer
    Author: Lori Murphy
    Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!

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