Vanilla Cake with Cannoli Filling and Whipped Cream Frosting

As I mentioned, yesterday was Lane’s birthday and there was cake.  When possible, I like to give the birthday boy or girl some input as to what kind of cake there will be, but keep the finished product a surprise until show time.  Last year, I made a replica of Carvel Ice Cream’s Cookiepuss ice cream cake so I knew this year it would be hard to top that.  With little input from the birthday boy (who seriously never asks for or hints at anything), I decided a cannoli cake would be perfect.  Lane did mention loving cannoli cake, and M loves all things cannoli and I’m quite sure O never met a cake he didn’t like and so it was decided.  Ordinarily, I’d include some chocolate chips in the filling but M only likes chocolate sometimes.  There’s nothing worse when you’re a kid than having this giant birthday cake on the kitchen table and oh, you can’t have any.  If you don’t have that constraint, I’d stir about a cup of (preferably mini, but regular size work fine) semi-sweet chocolate chips into the cannoli filling.  The cake was in no way lacking without the chocolate chips, so it’s really a matter of preference.

This takes some planning ahead, as keeping the components chilled makes assembly and frosting easier.  I used four bamboo skewers to keep the cakes from shifting and it helped.  For added flavor and moisture, I made a simple syrup flavored with vanilla and nutmeg and brushed it onto the cakes before stacking them.  I can’t stress enough the importance of planning ahead and giving yourself plenty of time to make this cake.  The baked cakes will need to cool completely, and after adding the cannoli filling between the stacked cakes it will need a few hours in the refrigerator to set the filling.  It should be kept refrigerated until ready to serve because of the whipped cream frosting (and other dairy elements).  It’s completely worth planning ahead and worth every bit of effort.  The finished cake is moist, has an obvious cannoli filling flavor, and the whipped cream frosting isn’t sweet or heavy enough to over power any of that deliciousness.

cannoli cake

Vanilla Cake with Cannoli Filling and Whipped Cream Frosting


for the cake:

  • 2/3 C. butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 C. sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 C. milk

for the syrup coating:

  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

for the cannoli filling:

  • 16 oz. (2 C.) whole milk ricotta cheese, drained*
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 C. confectioner’s sugar (possibly more, to thicken filling)

for the frosting:

  • 2 C. heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


*Draining the ricotta is critical to having a thick enough filling for the cake.  Do this at least two days in advance by lining a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel, placing the lined strainer over a bowl, then spooning in the ricotta. Cover the entire setup with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two days.  Discard any liquid that has accumulated in the bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Mix in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until combined.

Add 1/3 of the milk and mix until combined.  Continue alternating 1/3 of the flour mixture with 1/3 of the milk, mixing after each addition until ingredients are combined.

Lightly grease (or spray with non-stick cooking spray) and then flour three 9 inch round cake pans.

Evenly divide the cake batter among the three pans (about 2 C. of batter per pan is what I measured).

Bake for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Carefully turn the cakes out onto wire racks to cool completely.

It’s optional but recommended that at this point, you wrap the cakes tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours (or overnight).

To make the coating syrup, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over high heat.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for ten minutes.  Once the heat has been turned down, stir in the vanilla and nutmeg.

Allow the syrup to cool in the refrigerator until cooled completely (if you do this while the cakes are cooling, the syrup can cool in the refrigerator at the same time as the cakes).

Once the syrup has cooled completely, place a wire cooling rack over a piece of waxed paper and place the cakes onto the wire rack.

Generously brush the syrup onto the cakes, using a barbecue or pastry brush.  You will have extra syrup.

Allow the cakes to sit on the wire racks for 30 minutes before returning them to the refrigerator.

To make the cannoli filling, blend the ricotta and cream cheese together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Mix in the vanilla.

Beat in the powdered sugar, and if needed add more powdered sugar 1/4 C. at a time.  The mixture should be roughly the consistency of pudding.

Refrigerate the filling for 2 hours before using it to fill the cakes.

Place one cake onto the serving plate (I suggest putting four pieces of waxed paper under the cake’s edges, in a square.  They can be pulled out from under the cake after you’re done frosting it), and spread a layer of cannoli filling evenly over the top of the cake.

Stack a second cake on top of the filling, and spread another layer of cannoli filling evenly over the top of that cake.

Place the third cake on top of the cannoli filling and insert four bamboo skewers into the stacked cakes for stability.

Place the cake into the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour before frosting.

To make the whipped cream frosting, whip the heavy cream in the bowl of  a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use a hand mixer on high speed) for 1 minute until it starts to thicken.

Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract and whisk on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until desired thickness is achieved.

Evenly spread the whipped cream frosting onto the top and sides of the cake (remove the waxed paper if you used it) and decorate as desired.

Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Makes about 16 servings (one 3-layer 9″ round cake, serving size may vary depending on how large you cut the slices).

Source: Cake, A Culinary Journey with Chef Dennis; cannoli filling, adapted from Sargento; whipped cream frosting, Diana Dishes original

cannoli cake slice


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