Ciambellone al limone – lemon cake (with a hole)

Italian recipe for ciambellone al limone made by Mariacristina
Very hard to resist when it’s there in front of you…

Sometimes you really need to get creative when it comes to translating names of Italian food into English. For ciambellone al limone, no matter how much I searched, the only possible word that would give a vague idea of what ciambellone refers to in terms of shape, at least, was doughnut. My ears would not accept it, though, and my eyes filled with tears at the thought of associating a cake linked to my childhood, made with good and simple ingredients, to Homer Simpson’s addiction. Doughnuts, as much as I love them, have nothing in common with ciambellone, apart from one thing: the hole.

So a ciambellone is a soft and scrumptious cake with a hole inside; hence my choice of ‘lemon cake with a hole’ for the translation. Banal, but effective, I think. What do you reckon? If you have any other suggestions, please do let me know!

Before sharing the recipe, there are a couple of things you should know about ciambelloni. They are popular everywhere in Italy: wherever you go, there will be mention of ciambellone della nonna, ciambellone al cioccolato, ciambellone this and ciambellone that.

I can safely say that for many Italians ciambellone is the cake of our childhood, the one our parents – often mothers or grannies – would make for us to have for breakfast. “Tea, you mean!” I hear you cry. Nope. Breakfast.

Ciambellone al limone made by Mariacristina from Coochinando
Ciambellone for breakfast, anyone?

So yes, Italians eat cake for breakfast. Whenever possible and suitable (I am not saying it is a routine) we will LOVE to have cake for breakfast. Any cake! Even birthday cake. Whatever is left over in the fridge. I might be wrong – perhaps it is actually widespread for many Brits to have cake for breakfast, but from my personal experience that is not the case.

You should see the look in my husband’s eyes and the darkening of his face when, after more or less 10 years of being together, I say the dreaded words: shall we have cake for breakfast, yes? It is like I am breaking his heart. I see that look and start preparing toast or cereal, or a bacon sandwich, and that will make him happy…

Slice of ciambellone al limone held y George Norton
A smile (and a dusty nose) when ciambellone is for afternoon tea, though!

Another occasion is when I bake a cake and the next day take some to work. As soon as I get in, I run to the kitchen to get plates and a knife, place it nicely on the desk and let my team know that there is cake for them to have for their breakfast (for those who have breakfast at work). And people usually give me strange looks, or just say: “Sure, I’ll have a slice after lunch, with my coffee or tea.” Before getting these mixed reactions, I had not realised it might be unusual for cake to be an option for breakfast!

Back to ciambellone al limone… For me it is technically the ciambellone della zia (auntie’s ciambellone). I have vivid memories of having a slice of it every time I would visit my zia Anna. Only slightly zesty, soft and light. A delight. I had not eaten it for a long time, and recently I got so desperate that I asked her to share the recipe with me.

Ciambella al limone cut in slices
The first of a large number of slices…

Once you have measured and prepared all the ingredients, it will take less than 5 minutes (plus time for baking in the oven) to make the ciambellone. And no mixers or other appliances are required. It is all done with a whisk. This is therefore a cake to make when you are tired but you are craving something scrumptious to have with your tea, or when you know that friends are coming over for tea and you don’t have much time on your hands. I can assure you it is a delight. My colleagues at CAFOD had it and loved it so much that they expressly asked me to post the recipe on the blog asap. So here it is!

Ingredients for ciambellone al limone

Serves  8 – 10

For the batter

  • 250g sugar
  • 3 medium-sized eggs
  • 200ml full fat milk (semi-skimmed is okay, too)
  • 170ml peanut oil (or sunflower)
  • 1 lemon (the juice and the rind)
  • 1 sachet “lievito pane degli angeli” (or 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 3 drops of vanilla essence. These to be used with self-raising flour rather than plain flour)
  •  250g plain flour


  • butter and extra flour to line a ring-shaped cake tin of 24cm
  • icing sugar for dusting


Line the ciambellone tin with some butter and dust it lightly with flour. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)

In a large bowl mix the eggs and sugar with a (manual) whisk energetically for a few minutes until they are well incorporated.

Add the milk, the oil and the lemon juice and rind and mix well (add the vanilla essence if you are going to use the baking powder as opposed to the “pane degli angeli” sachet)

If you are using the baking powder: sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.  Add it to the rest of the ingredients, and mix well until you obtain a smooth and compact batter.

If you managed to find “pane degli angeli”: sift the flour and add it to the mix. Separately, sift the pane degli angeli before adding it to the mix as the final ingredient. Incorporate well with the mixture.

Pour the mixture into the ciambellone tin, and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes (depending on your oven, it might take up to 45 minutes) until well risen and firm to the touch. If the wooden stick comes out clean, turn the oven off, open the oven door and leave the cake for another 5 minutes before taking it out. Leave it to cool in the tin. Once cool, take it out and move it to a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar and enjoy with a cup of tea or, as Italians would do, with an espresso or cappuccino for breakfast! I personally would accompany it with a glass of cold milk. YUM!

PS Do not blame me if your friends keep asking you to make the cake for them every time they see you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

14 thoughts on “Ciambellone al limone – lemon cake (with a hole)

  1. George 10th January 2016 / 10:52pm

    Ah – cake for breakfast. The great thing about being offered cake for breakfast, even if your tummy is more accustomed to cereal, toast or bacon, is that you know it’s there waiting for you later in the day!
    It’s always good to have something to look forward to, after all…

    • Mariacristina 10th January 2016 / 11:11pm

      Yes but you should still try to embrace this Italian custom….:-P Cake for breakfasta is great, especially when home made, full of goodness to start the day with!

      • George 11th January 2016 / 10:26pm

        I promise to eat your next cake for breakfast!

        • Mariacristina 18th January 2016 / 5:05pm

          Deal! You won’t regret it!

  2. sonia 12th January 2016 / 4:42pm

    Allattando, il limone mi da un po fastidio. Se elimino il succo di limone, va bene lo stesso?con che cosa lo posso sostituire??

    • Mariacristina 12th January 2016 / 9:48pm

      Beh e’ il limone o sono gli agrumi in genere? L’arancia potrebbe andare bene. Se gli agrumi non sono un’opzione, un succo di mela? Ma credo che se non aggiungi nulla viene buono cmq perche il succo del limone e’ poco…:-) fammi sapere come va! xx

  3. Jimena 14th January 2016 / 2:54pm

    Cake for breakfast? Is there another way to have breakfast? I SO GLAD I joined this blog 🙂

    • Mariacristina 15th January 2016 / 8:32pm

      Awwww isn’t it the best thing to start the day? Merci jimeniti and welcome to coochinando!xxx

  4. Mariolina 30th January 2016 / 12:11am

    I bambini l hanno gradito xche delicato e soffice

    • Mariacristina 30th January 2016 / 1:51pm

      ah, allora lo rafarai per loro?:-)

  5. Catherine Ryan 4th April 2016 / 8:41am

    Hi, I think there may be a mistake/discrepancy in the above. The ingredients give a substitute for lievito pane degli angeli and you have vanilla extract and baking powder listed in the ingredients but in the method you also speak of bicarbonate of soda. I downloaded this recipe when you first published it, and there the substitute contains the three ingredients. I made it at the weekend and the texture was more like rum baba without the rum, and now I see that perhaps you edited it? I knew there was too much raising agent in it… Would be grateful for your feedback on this.


    • Mariacristina 4th April 2016 / 10:32am

      Hi Catherine, thank you for getting in touch. I am sorry about the mistake in the recipe. A few people tested it and the conclusion is that for best results you would need self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder and vanilla extract. So the recipe is now accurate. So: self raising flour, vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Please do let me know how you get on with it if you make it again. More people made it since this change and it came out beautifully. Thank you again for getting in touch, your patience and understanding:-) Feedback like this is essential for me at this stage.

  6. Luisa Carotenuto 24th October 2016 / 11:30pm

    Hi. I come from an Italian background and love this cake but have never made it myself before so decided to give it a try over the weekend. Unfortunately I was disappointed. It didn’t rise that much and the consistency was more like a banana loaf rather than light & fluffy. I used self raising flour with baking powder and vanilla extract and baked it for almost an hour as it wasn’t cooked inside. It also didn’t taste very lemony and I used 1.5 lemons so would definitely use at least 3 next time. I used extra virgin olive oil instead of peanut or sunflower which I saw from another Italian website. I’m wondering whether the oven wasn’t hot enough as I only switched it on 10mins before it went in or it needed more whisking!

    • Mariacristina 25th October 2016 / 8:24am

      Hi Luisa! Thank you for getting in touch and leaving your feedback:-) There may be many reasons why the cake did not rise and did not come out properly. I had a few people who tested it and it turned out ok. However you need to consider that I use pane degli angeli which is the ingredient used for all cakes in Italy and that makes things much easier. Also ovens are very different. Mine is very strong and heats up very quickly (i get a warning when the oven had been heat at the right temperature). Some ovens may take longer, be less strong. This means that my 40 minutes may translate in 50 minutes for someone else. I suggest to use sunflower oil as extra Virgin is too heavy and gives the cake a completely different taste and heavy texture. It also means that it overpowers other flavours like Lemon. This is Not a Lemon drizzle so the Lemon is more subtle. If you add more liquid (more Lemon juice) or change the consistency and texture (extra virgin oil) the structure of the mixture will inevitably change and you cannot expect to get the same result:-) So overall my advice would be to let the oven heat up properly, use sun flower, replace baking powder with bicarbonate of soda and maybe add more lemon zest rather than more juice. If you add more juice, you have to change, in proportion, the other ingredients too. If you manage to get hold of pane degli angeli, even better. I try my best to replicate the original cakes but sometimes using the origin ingredients makes a difference. Ultimately this cake is rather moist so maybe not as fluffly as other cakes. I hope you can give it another go but if you are based in London I would be more than happy to make the cake with youThank you again for getting in touch. Have a lovely day.

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