Ciambellone della nonna

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Today’s recipe has a guest cook: Simona, performing in Nonna Lella’s own “ciambellone”.

“Ciambellone” (literally, “big donut”) is a typical family cake of the spongy, sandy variety, very common in the Marche and subject to so many variations that a cook friend of mine one day noted that the Marche have about a hundred typical cake recipe, all of them a ciambellone” (hi Rolando!).

Arguably the dullest cake on Earth, the ciambellone’s disarming simplicity can become addictive. At breakfast, it’s healthier and more satisfying than biscuits, and tastier than bread while still being spreadable (I suggest raspberry marmalade).

Also, its simplicity makes it a perfect candidate for last-minute occasions.

Simplicity of course masks important details: too much milk will make it  too soft to spread. Heating the butter too much will make a firmer dough, quite unlike it ought to be. The desired result is something like sponge-cake, without the spongyness. Easier said than done…

Which is why we are ppublishing Simona’s grandmother’s own recipe, refined over some 50 years. Show some respect.

Apron-to-dish: 1 hour; SoHo time: 15 minutes.

What you’ll need:

  • 500g all-purpose flour
  • 250g white sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 4 eggs, whole
  • 1 lemon peel, grated
  • 100g whole milk (or less, you decide how friable you like it)
  • 1 packet vanillin
  • 1 packet baking powder

Turn on the oven and set it to 180°C.

Put eggs, flour, sugar, vanillin and grated lemon peel in a large bowl and mix.

Just melt: stop when yellow and opaque
Just melt: stop when yellow and opaque

Put the butter in a small pot on medium heat until almost completely melted. You want melted, not liquefied: turn off the heat before the butter turns into a transparent liquid.

Pour milk into butter, mix
Pour milk into butter, mix

Add the milk to the butter, then pour the mix into the large bowl. Mix, add baking powder, mix again.

Generously butter the inside of a non-stick baking pan, pour in the content of the bowl, bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

The ciambellone is ready
The ciambellone is ready
The muffin's ready too...
The muffin’s ready too…

A ciambellone out of the oven smells delicious, therefore it is extremely uncommon for it to reach the following morning intact (we often have ciambellone dinner). If you plan to use it for breakfast, cut and stow away some…


    • never mind, Valerie, it happens to me too at times.
      Although the packet says “lievito” it actually is baking soda plus vanillin, not the real leavening you make bread with.

  1. What is vanillin? I am in the US and would like to make this cake and don’t know what to use as a substitute? My Nonna was from Civitanova and used to make a simple cake with different flavors depending on the flavoring and I am hoping this is the type of cake she baked. We have no recipe and I was too young to ask her. Thanks in advance.

    • Vanillin is the name of the substance that gives vanilla its flavor. I see it’s called “imitation vanilla extract” in the US. “Imitation” means it is chemically sinthesized rather than extracted from the Vanilla stick. In practice, the two molecules are one and the same thing.
      The vanilla extract is brownish becuase of impurities, of course, while vanillin is white, sugar-like crystals. No matter if an extract or a sinthesized molecule, they work exactly the same.
      I am sure if you look for “vanilla extract” in any decent supermarket you’ll be able to find what you need.
      It’s possible you find a powder form and a liquid forn -they work the same, and the amount you need is basically a teaspoonful.
      Good luck, and let us know how the cake comes out!

      • Thanks for the vanillin explanation, we do have vanilla extract here in the US and it’s made from real vanilla beans soaked in alcohol. The other thing I forgot to ask is what amount of baking soda would I use in this recipe since I cannot get a package of baking soda with vanillin? How many grams would I use? I am very excited to make this cake! 😉

  2. […] soon as Annie and Beatrice arrived, she welcomed them with our typical ciambellone cake (a must-eat in our family, according to nonna Pina‘s recipe!) and freshly picked fruit […]

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