A spiced cannoli poke cake is my go-to celebration contribution - I’ve made this cake for birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases, and anniversaries, and it’s been a hit every time. Easy to make and boasting a deliciously unique flavor palate, this cake is deceivingly sophisticated. This recipe combines two of my favorite things: the Sicilian pastry cannolo (plural: cannoli) and an easy-to-follow box cake. Whether you’re new to the world of baking or a whiz with a whisk, this cake is a handy recipe to have on deck for the next shindig, soiree, or sugar craving. (Who needs a special occasion to have a delicious dessert waiting for you in the fridge, anyway?)
Being of Italian heritage, I’ve always felt obligated to figure out my way around Italian cuisine. My first stop was the desserts, and can anyone really blame me? I quickly fell in love with the warm spices and rich espresso flavors of tiramisu, the light, lemony crunch of an Italian S cookie, and the mildly cheesy and sweet filling of a cannoli. But as delicious as they are, they’re not the easiest to make. Take it from someone who used an oblong spatula handle as a cannoli shell mold for years; Italian desserts can be as complicated to make as they are addictive.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9” round cake pan with parchment paper and set aside
In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, water, and vegetable oil. Mix by hand vigorously for two minutes until wet and dry ingredients are completely incorporated.
Pour batter evenly into pan. Bake for 28-30 minutes; check for doneness by sticking a butter knife into the center of the sponge. If the knife comes out clean, the cake is done. If there’s batter on the knife, continue baking for 1-2 minute increments.
** Note: this step varies slightly from the box. Since only one 9” pan is being used, it will take slightly longer for the cake to bake completely. The taller, fluffier cake allows the sweetened condensed milk to saturate the sponge without becoming flat and gooey.
Let cake cool in the pan for ten minutes before transferring to a cooling rack for twenty to thirty minutes.
While the cake is cooling, combine ricotta, mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, and 1 tsp. of cloves into a large mixing bowl. Mix until completely incorporated. Set in the fridge until the cake is ready for frosting.
Once cooled, transfer cake to a plate, cake platter, or 9” pan. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke 15-20 holes completely through the sponge until the handle hits the platter/plate/pan. Placement isn’t important, but try to keep the holes evenly spaced to maintain the structural integrity of the cake.
Slowly pour half a can of sweetened condensed milk evenly over the cake. Stop to pour a bit extra in each poked hole, but be careful not to overfill. The sweetened condensed milk will naturally sink into the sponge as it sets.
Transfer cake to the refrigerator and chill for at least an hour and a half (it’s okay to leave it overnight, too).
Frost the chilled cake with cannoli mixture - get creative with piping and swirls or keep it simple! Sprinkle with 1 tsp. cloves.
Decorate with miniature chocolate chips as desired. I’ll be traveling with my cake, so I made a “crust” of chocolate chips to help keep the frosting from sliding over the edge of the pan en route. You can cover the entire cake with chocolate chips, spell out a message, or make a unique design of your own.
The fusion of simple baking techniques and out-of-the-box flavor combinations keeps me coming back to this cake time and time again. As with any good recipe, there’s always room for variation! Channel your inner pasticcere with these topping variations:
Use extra frosting as a sweet dipping sauce for brownies, graham crackers, or pizzelle cookies. If you’re looking for ways to use up leftover sweetened condensed milk, try these tasty recipes:
It’s no surprise then that this dessert turned my baking world upside down. The “poke” of “poke cake” refers to the extra step of poking holes in the cake and saturating the sponge with syrup, gelatin, or in this recipe’s case, sweetened condensed milk. Adding these types of ingredients after the cake has baked prevents the intense heat from compromising their texture or flavor. The poked holes allow for more thorough saturation of the sponge without cutting or layering.
This spiced cannoli cake is a definite crowd-pleaser. Soaking the cake in sweetened condensed milk makes an ultra-moist, absolutely delectable sponge reminiscent of tiramisu. The cinnamon and clove-filled frosting, made of mild Italian cheeses and confectioner’s sugar, is bound to keep sugar fanatics and not-so-sweet tooths alike coming back for a second (or third, or fourth) piece.
A quick note: typically, I use white cake for my cannoli poke cakes, but any flavor sponge will work. Feel free to use whatever flavor of cake mix you prefer -- I used Funfetti this time around because the store was out of white cake (and since I was making this for my birthday, Funfetti seemed all the more appropriate -- not to mention, a very “Leo” choice.)