Cannoli Cream Gelato

Can you think of anything that sounds more delicious than the sweet, creamy, cinnamony filling of cannoli turned into gelato? I can't!! Every time I go to a gelato shop, I wish I could find one based on that flavor, but I never, ever do. And why not? You'd think someone would have come up with this idea by now! And maybe someone has, but I haven't been able to find that person yet.

When Billy got the ice cream maker for his birthday, I quickly started looking for gelato recipes online because I'd always wanted to try homemade gelato; that's when I found out that, generally, it's made with a milk base rather than heavy cream. At the same time, I read that Sicilian gelato tends to be made with a base of milk and cornstarch and found a recipe for dark chocolate gelato using exactly that. As I read the recipe, I realized that, outside of the cocoa powder used to flavor it as chocolate, it looked eerily similar to my family's biancomangiare recipe (biancomangiare is the term for cannoli cream), which has a base of half and half, cornstarch, and sugar, with canella (a unique type of cinnamon) used as flavoring. Traditional cannoli filling is made with ricotta cheese rather than the pudding my family uses; however, our version is incredibly common, at least in America; it would be rare to step into an Italian bakery here and not find one filled with a white pudding rather than ricotta.

So, back on topic, when I realized the base for gelato was generally identical to the base for biancomangiare, I knew that would have to be my very first attempt at gelato...or ice cream...or any frozen dessert made at home. I immediately found our biancomangiare recipe and compared the amount of half and half to the amount of milk so that I could calculate how much canella to add. After a few other flavor tweaks, I poured the base into the machine, adding chopped chocolate and pistachios at the very end. When the gelato had finished freezing and I took my first bite...I nearly died. It was perfect...identical to the flavors of my absolutely positively favorite dessert of all time...and it was so creamy and soft, just as I like it. So, I filled a container, placed it in the freezer, and quickly emailed my mother to brag, who then said I should bring it for the Fourth of July!

A few hours later, I went back to the freezer for another taste...and my heart sank. My soft, creamy gelato had become hard, gritty, icy...the texture was incredibly unappetizing, especially with the chocolate and pistachios mixed into the icy cream. I did some research to find out what had gone wrong and it simply appeared that this is a common problem with homemade ice creams! They're great right out of the machine, but icy and gritty out of the freezer. It bothered me because who wants to make just enough ice cream to immediately eat? Billy and I had wanted pints and pints of flavors in our freezer to enjoy at the drop of a hat! And what was I to do for the Fourth of July? Make the gelato that very afternoon and hope it doesn't melt at my aunt's before it gets eaten? I don't think so.

That's when I found Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, which I mentioned in my last entry. It was actually probably the third book I looked at. First, I browsed a couple gelato books because...you know...I'm just obsessed with gelato a bit more than ice cream! Since the results were lacking, though, I decided to search for ice cream books, instead, and the very first one I saw was Jeni's, which I had to click on because I'd heard of her ice cream!

In Michigan, we have a store called Plum Market, which is like most markets...they sell amazing looking produce, wines, deli meat and cheese, grocery items, etc. It's a lot more amazing than most markets, though...The quality and selection are supreme; there are things you can find there that you probably can't find anywhere: belgian dark chocolate spreads, dark chocolate dulce de leche, home baked breads like quarkstuten (unless you've been to Germany, have you even heard of this?), the largest selection of frozen yogurt you'll find anywhere and, imported from an ice cream shop in Ohio...Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. Though I've never purchased any, I've always lusted after her ice creams; with flavors like Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Wildberry Lavendar, Rockmill Golden Ale and Apricots, and (seemingly everyone's favorite) Salted Caramel, how could I not? How could anyone not? There are even unique sorbets, frozen yogurts, and ice creams made with goat cheese!

So, I clicked the link to read about her book and knew I had to search no further; only one reviewer gave it fewer than four stars (and that person sounded like a giant crab) and the whole foundation of the book was about finding the perfect recipe for homemade ice cream so that it retained the same texture as anything you could buy in the store. Hello! Exactly what I was looking for! The next day, Billy went out, bought the book...and we immediately got to work :) Flipping through her recipes, I realized...this homemade ice cream was, really, closer to homemade gelato. Could my day get any better? Her ice cream base does contain heavy cream, but the ratio is nearly two parts whole milk to only one part heavy cream, so that's good enough for me. Despite the preponderance of unique ice cream flavors, I quickly located one for a simple vanilla bean and decided that would be the basis for my Cannoli Cream Gelato--the only thing I would have to do is add the unique flavors of biancomangiare, so it was truly meant to be :)

This time around...once the gelato had set up in the actual freezer...I ran a spoon through it, took a taste...and my smile must have reached from ear to ear or as close as it could get. Jeni knows what she's doing! Her technique for adding chocolate (so that you can make something like mint chocolate chip ice cream) is exactly what Billy and I were looking for too; she calls them "chocolate freckles" and they're amazing. So, I used that technique to imitate the chocolate chunks we mix into the biancomangiare before spooning it into cannoli shells or cassata cake...or simply our mouths. All I left out, this time, were the chopped pistachios, which is because Billy isn't a fan of nuts and I wanted him to try the gelato so he could give his opinion on the chocolate bits (for future use in his mint chocolate chip!). Something like that could be added later, anyway, so the outcome was still exactly what I was looking for and exactly something I would be proud to present to my family.

So, if you own an ice cream maker and are a fan of cannoli, I highly, highly encourage you to make this recipe. If you've never had a cannolo...I'm sorry...and beg you to either go out and buy one or at least make the cream at home if your particular location is void of proper Italian bakeries. Of course, you could always just make this gelato because, I promise, it tastes exactly the same :)

Cannoli Cream Gelato (makes about 1 quart)


  • 1 1/2 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out, seeds & bean reserved (or 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract)
  • maximum 2 sticks (or 1 tsp finely ground) canella--any other cinnamon will not taste the same and I say "maximum" because I find 2 sticks/1 tsp is probably the strongest you'll want to go
  • 4 oz chopped chocolate--the type is your choice; I used bittersweet, 60% cacao, but usually use milk chocolate in the pudding version

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and salt; set aside. In a separate, small bowl, take about two tbsp of the milk and whisk with the cornstarch until dissolved; set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart saucepan, combine the heavy cream, remaining milk, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla seeds and bean, and canella. Constantly scraping the bottom of the pan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, allowing the mixture to boil for 4 minutes, exactly. Remove from the heat, stir in the cornstarch slurry, and bring back to a boil (still scraping constantly so as not to burn the milk), until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Discard the vanilla bean and sticks of canella; gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Pour gelato base into a large pan (I use a 9x13"), cover with plastic wrap (allowing it to actually touch the mixture so that a skin doesn't form), and set in the fridge to chill--it should be fully cooled in under an hour. You can also pour the base into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and immerse it in an ice bath, adding more ice as necessary, until cold.

To freeze the gelato, follow the directions for your ice cream machine. With mine, I turn the machine on and pour the base into the spinning frozen canister, allowing it to freeze until it's thick, creamy, and has pulled away from the sides (rather than leaving a coating). While your gelato is still freezing, though, melt the chocolate, allowing it to cool until tepid but still fluid. Just before your gelato is finished, slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate, allowing it to solidify and break apart; give it about two minutes or so. The result will be wonderful, small flecks of chocolate running all throughout the dessert, just like at Baskin-Robbins ;) 

Though, I didn't do it, if you want to add pistachios to the actual mixture, I would chop about 1/4 cup and add those after the chocolate, allowing the gelato to continue churning for a few minutes until the nuts are evenly throughout. You can also add them in layers as you pack the gelato into a container...or, as I did, simply serve them on top! After all, a cannolo simply has chopped pistachios pressed onto the two ends of the pastry. 

To store, pack the gelato into an airtight container, pressing a sheet of parchment paper directly to the surface before sealing with the lid; store in the coldest part of your refrigerator. And, remember, if you plan to transport it, try to keep it in the freezer for at least four hours to ensure firmness.

To serve, I recommend scooping into an ice cream cone or waffle bowl to get the crunch you would with a cannolo. For the true frozen cannolo effect, though, spoon into an empty cannoli shell, pressing chopped pistachios or peanuts into the ends and dusting with confectioners sugar :) That's what I'll be trying next time!


  1. I have been experimenting with cannoli recipes for years now and I can't tell you how many batches I have wasted because something was missing. I am positive now that it is the Bianco Mangiare that is the key. Is there any way you would be willing to share your recipe?

  2. I'm sorry I didn't get back sooner; I've been quite distracted with the new baby!

    Anyway, I'm wondering...have you been making cannoli with sweetened ricotta? Because, though that's probably a more traditional filling, I find most people are more familiar with biancomangiare (the white pudding described in this recipe). So, if that's the kind of cannoli you're used to buying, but have been making them with ricotta, I could definitely see how it would seem like they're never quite right! Though, the ricotta can be delicious as well :)

    I've been meaning to share my recipe for cassata cake, which includes biancomangiare, so hopefully I can do that soon and, hopefully, you find the turnout to your liking!


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