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.
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…
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.
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!
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!