When it comes to what I enjoy about the cannoli, I’m split 50/50: love the creamy filling, hate the crispy shell.
The thick, soft, fluffy, lightly sweet ricotta frosting – the literal internal soul that fills every heartless, hard shell – is where I find true happiness.
I know my cannoli, and I’ve eaten plenty of them, shell and all.
Having lived in Boston for a couple years, the North End’s Little Italy is sprawling with Italian restaurants and bakeries (shout-out to Mike’s Pastry!). Lines of hungry people snake down the tiny, cobblestoned streets, an eager mix of aggravated locals and excited visitors, waiting to get a box of assorted sweets.
As a patron buying a cannoli on a rare day off from grad school and three jobs, I’d happily stand in line to get one with the classic filling: a sweetened vanilla ricotta frosting mixed with chocolate chips or crushed pistachios.
While the cannoli is considered a handheld treat, sometimes I’d go the extra mile of getting a spoon to scoop out the filling, intently avoiding the shell.
Disrespectful to the cannoli tradition? Maybe.
Creating one very happy, overworked grad student who deserved limitless sugary pleasure? Yes, yes, yessssss!
My textural aversion for the shell, and irrevocable passion for the inner filling, is what inspired this new idea for cupcakes.
They’re my pretty homage to the Italian bakeries of Boston, and my form of an apology for all the shells I threw away in the trash.
Now that I have these, I promise it won’t happen again, Boston.
The only crunch you’ll find will be from chocolate chips in the frosting, and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios on top. But these are completely acceptable.
Before you bake, you do need abide by one rule. If ignored, your final dessert may become a liquidy, gloopy disaster.
Here it is:
Look for whole milk hand-dipped ricotta or ricotta impastata (an option with even more whey drained from it than hand dipped ricotta) at an Italian grocer or specialty food store. These versions will be thicker than the more watery, grainier generic options at the grocery store.
A high-quality ricotta will yield a thicker frosting that will hold its shape – an important quality when decorating individual cupcakes!
If you absolutely cannot find this type of ricotta, please please please scroll down to Step 6 of the Cooking by the Numbers section – I have an acceptable (but not perfect) substitution for you!Print
Obsessed with the creamy filling of a cannoli? This einkorn cupcake version of the sweet Italian dessert gives you what you crave the most.
For the Cake Base:
- 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 cups einkorn flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 large egg whites
For the Frosting:
- 2 cups (about 16 ounces) whole milk hand-dipped ricotta or whole milk ricotta impastata
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup chopped pistachios, for garnish
For the Cupcakes:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 20 units in two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4-6 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add the 2 whole eggs one at a time at medium speed, mixing until each is incorporated completely.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl. Set aside. Mix together the milk and vanilla in another separate bowl.
- On low speed, alternate adding the dry mixture and liquid mixture to the creamed butter, starting and ending with the dry mixture. Mix until combined after each addition. Scrape the bowl with a spatula and mix a final time to combine.
- In a separate clean bowl, whisk the three egg whites until medium peaks form. Fold the egg whites gently into the batter until no white streaks remain.
- Divide the batter between the cupcake liners, filling each about 3/4 of the way full. You may not need all of the liners – remove any that are not filled.
- Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the cupcakes are puffy and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely before decorating.
For the Frosting:
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the ricotta, sugar, and vanilla on low speed just until combined.
- Add the chocolate chips and mix on low speed just until combined.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about an hour to slightly thicken and set.
- Decorate the cupcakes as you wish, and garnish with the chopped pistachios. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to a day before serving.
If hand-dipped ricotta or ricotta impastata is not available, you can use generic whole-milk ricotta that is drained of excess liquid: Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel. Weigh it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator overnight. Once the ricotta has drained, it is now ready to use in the recipe.
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Cupcakes
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Dessert
Keywords: einkorn flour, cupcake, cannoli, ricotta, chocolate chip, pistachio
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep the Cake Ingredients
Let the butter, eggs, and milk come to room temperature before mixing in order to create the most homogenous batter.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 20 cups of two muffin pans with cupcake liners. Measure out all of the ingredients for the cake base.
Chop the pistachios and set them aside.
Step 2 – Make the Base Batter
With the mixer running on medium speed, add the 2 whole eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is incorporated completely.
On low speed, alternate adding the dry flour mixture and the liquid milk mixture to the creamed butter-sugar-egg mixture, starting and ending with the dry mixture. Mix until combined after each addition.
Scrape the bowl with a spatula and mix a final time to combine. The batter will be fairly thick, until you add the egg whites in the next step.
Step 3 – Whip the Egg Whites
In a medium bowl, whip three egg whites with a whisk until medium peaks form. I prefer to do this by hand (it only takes a few minutes), but you can choose to use a stand mixer or a hand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Adding whipped egg whites into the batter helps to create a fluffier, lighter cake. This is a great trick, especially with einkorn flour, which tends to yield heavier baked desserts.
Step 4 – Fold in the Egg Whites
With a spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter, being sure to combine just until there are no white streaks left. The mixture will look lighter in color and smoother in texture.
Overmixing will deflate all of that pretty air you created with the whipped whites, so be gentle!
Step 5 – Bake
Divide the batter into the prepared cupcake liners, filling each 3/4 of the way full. You may not need to use all of the liners. Remove any liners that aren’t used.
Bake the cupcakes for 15-18 minutes, or until they are puffy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before removing the cupcakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before decorating.
Step 6 – Make the Frosting
Measure all of the ingredients needed for the frosting.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the ricotta, sugar, and vanilla on low speed just until combined.
Add the chocolate chips and mix on low speed just until combined.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the frosting for about an hour to slightly thicken and set.
Uh-oh… what if you can’t find hand-dipped ricotta or ricotta impastata?
Rest assured, you can still make this recipe with an equal amount of generic whole-milk ricotta, though the frosting will have a runnier consistency. More than likely, it won’t be thick enough to pipe it, but you can still spread it on top of your treats with an offset spatula.
To get rid of some of the excess liquid, here are the extra steps you’ll need to take:
Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel. Weigh it down with a heavy can (like a can of beans), and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator overnight.
Once the ricotta has drained, it is now ready to use in the recipe.
Step 7 – Decorate and Serve
Decorate the cupcakes as you wish! I like to use a star piping tip to mimic the look of all those old-school cannoli. Garnish with the chopped pistachios.
Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to a day before serving.
Unique Techniques Yield Unique Sweets
This cannoli-inspired cupcake is certainly not your ordinary dessert!
We combine special ingredients like einkorn flour and hand-dipped ricotta with creative baking techniques like incorporating whipped egg whites into the batter in order to make a delicious treat with the most amazing tastes and textures.
It’s an update of a classic dessert that is unforgettable, and one that I hope you make over and over again for all the cannoli lovers in your life.
Especially for the ones who don’t like the shell (wink, wink).
If you’re just beginning the journey to utilizing ancient grains in your baking, the next recipe I recommend you try is another fun spiff on a classic: einkorn cream puffs!
Have you ever heard of hand-dipped ricotta, or ricotta impastata? If you’ve never tried them, do it ASAP! You will be shocked by the rich, creamy texture. And once you try it, message me immediately in the comment section below so we can take about how awesome it is together!
Oh, but first… check out some of my other favorite cupcakes on Foodal:
Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on March 29, 2013. Last updated on March 25, 2020.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.