The Reason Wine Is Added To Cannoli Dough

You don't have to be Italian to enjoy one of the country's most famous desserts: the not-so-humble cannoli. The tubular treat, which hails from the region of Sicily, can be found in cafés and pastry shops all across the boot-shaped nation. These days, the pastry is just as ubiquitous here in the United States and all over the world.

Given its origins as a popular street food, the typical cannoli is made to be handheld. Its crispy shell serves as a delicious edible container for the traditional ricotta cream that's piped inside. While you can certainly choose to cut into it with a knife and fork, nothing beats a bite that delivers both the perfect crunch and the smooth richness of the cream.

Wherever you'll find cannoli, you'll also find a range of flavorful variations, from chocolate-dipped shells to mascarpone filling to toppings like pistachios, chocolate chips, and even candied fruit peels. But if there's one ingredient found in almost every authentic cannoli, it happens to be wine. No, it's not just because nonna might be drinking a glass while she makes them — the boozy additive is, in fact, the secret to the pastry's signature shell.

Alcohol makes for a crispy, bubbly cannoli shell

The toppings and fillings may fluctuate, but every cannoli shell is, essentially, fried dough. Wine is added as the liquid component to the dry ingredients when making the dough, either with or in place of water. Though it also serves to add flavor, the main reason wine is used is its alcohol content.

Ready for a little kitchen science lesson? Unlike water, alcohol doesn't combine with the proteins in flour to create gluten, which thickens and toughens dough. So the presence of alcohol in this mixture prevents the development of too much gluten, resulting in a lighter and more pliable dough that's easier to roll out as thin as needed.

But that's not all. Classic cannoli shells are known for their golden, bubbly finish. The alcohol in the wine helps to achieve this by cooking out of the dough quickly and evenly, creating the steam which bubbles up beneath the crust and leads to that crispy, textured surface we love.

If you're trying this at home, you may wonder exactly which kind of wine you should use. Many traditional recipes call specifically for Marsala, a fortified wine that, like cannoli itself, originates in Sicily. There are sweet and dry varieties and red and white, but sweet red Marsala is usually used for baking. However, just about any other fortified wine will do, including Portuguese Madeira wine, a common alternative found in plenty of modern cannoli recipes. Just as long as there's booze, there are bubbles.