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Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella Romagnola, Illustrated

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

A Ciambella Romagnola, Romagna’s traditional ring cake, is wonderful for breakfast, dipped into warm milk or caffè latte. It’s also quite nice at the end of a meal, served either with a glass of dessert wine along the lines of Albana di Romagna, or with the slices drizzled with zabaione or a fruit sauce or glaze.

Barbara Lucchi and her husband Riccardo Menghi, run the Vecia Cantena d’La Pré in Predappio Alta, a pretty hilltop town in the Appennini southwest of Forlì. I was fortunate enough to visit them in the course of a press tour, and when I returned to the town called ahead to ask Barbara (she handles the cooking, while he serves their guests) if she could demonstrate something easy to make.

Her Ciambella Romagnola, one of the region’s traditional cakes, certainly fits the bill. Her one word of warning: Don’t scale the recipe. It works perfectly as is.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Combine Eggs and Sugar

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Combine Eggs and Sugar

Barbara, like all Italian cooks, works by weight, and in this case I am giving weights first, followed by volume equivalents. You’ll need:

  • 250 g (1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar 5 eggs
  • 200 g (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted over a double boiler or in the microwave and allowed to cool
  • 500 g (4 1/8 cups) unbleached flour; she uses Italian grade 00
  • The grated zest of a lemon, yellow part only as the white is bitter
  • Milk: About 250 ml (1 cup), plus a little more at the end
  • 2 16-gram packets of lievito chimico, the Italian equivalent of baking powder. Barbara’s was vanigliato, vanilla flavored. You can also use plain baking powder, about 6 teaspoons.
  • A 26 cm (10-inch) ring mold. Barbara’s had a non-stick coating (“It’s what I’ve got”).
  • More butter and flour for buttering and flouring the mold.
  • Granella di zucchero for decorating the cake. This is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.
Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Beat The Eggs with the Sugar

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Beat The Eggs with the Sugar

Begin by melting the butter, either over a double boiler or in the microwave. Let it cool. Also, preheat your oven to 180 C (360 F).

In the meantime, put the sugar in a deep round-bottomed bowl and crack the eggs into it. Beat with a mixer set to low/medium for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture is a creamy yellow. “At this point,” Barbara says, “We have a cold zabaione.”

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Some Flour

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Some Flour

Add about a third of the flour to the egg and sugar mixture, and beat the batter for about a minute. Add another third of the flour and beat for a minute more.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add The Butter

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add The Butter

Add the melted butter and beat for another 30-40 seconds.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Lemon Zest

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Add Lemon Zest

Next, add the lemon zest, using either a lemon peeler or a grater. Be careful to add just the yellow part, as the white pith is bitter.

Beat in half of the milk, and half of the remaining flour. Then beat in the rest of the milk and the rest of the flour.

The next step is to butter the ring mold; be thorough, and then flour it, tapping it upside down to remove excess flour.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Baking Powder

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Baking Powder

Add the baking powder and beat it in; Barbara adds a little more milk at this point to make certain that it dissolves. The batter will be quite creamy.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Pour the batter into the pan, using a spatula to get the last of it. Give the filled pan a couple of quick shakes, and tap it once or twice against your counter top to level the batter.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Granella di Zucchero!

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Granella di Zucchero!

Sprinkle some granella di zucchero over the cake. Granella di zucchero is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.

You’ll want enough to cover the surface, about a cup I’d say.

Bake the ciambella on a low rack in your preheated 180 C (360 F) oven for 40-45 minutes.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Enjoy

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Enjoy

I had mine with a lightly chilled glass of Albana di Romagna, a sweet white wine, and it was superb.

Barbara’s Recipe, in a shorter page.

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella Romagnola, An Easy Italian Ring Cake

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: Done!

Barbara Lucchi and her husband Riccardo Menghi run the Vecia Cantena d’La Pré in Predappio Alta, a pretty hilltop town in the mountains southwest of Forlì.

Her Ciambella Romagnola, one of the traditional cakes of the region, is quite easy to make. It’s wonderful for breakfast, dipped into warm milk or caffè latte. It’s also nice at the end of a meal, either with a glass of dessert wine along the lines of Albana di Romagna, or with the slices drizzled with zabaione or a fruit sauce or glaze.

Her one word of warning: Don’t scale the recipe. It works perfectly as is.

  • 250 g (1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 200 g (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted over a double boiler or in the microwave and allowed to cool
  • 500 g (4 1/8 cups) unbleached flour; she uses Italian grade 00
  • The grated zest of a lemon, yellow part only as the white is bitter
  • Milk: About 250 ml (1 cup), plus a little more at the end
  • 2 16-gram packets of lievito chimico, the Italian equivalent of baking powder. Barbara’s was vanigliato, vanilla flavored. You can also use plain baking powder, about 6 teaspoons.
  • A 26 cm (10-inch) ring mold. Barbara’s had a non-stick coating (“It’s what I’ve got”).
  • More flour for buttering the mold.
  • Granella di zucchero for decorating the cake. This is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.

Begin by melting the butter, either over a double boiler or in the microwave. Let it cool. Also, preheat your oven to 180 C (360 F).

In the meantime, put the sugar in a deep round-bottomed bowl and crack the eggs into it. Beat with a mixer set to low/medium for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture is a creamy yellow. “At this point,” Barbara says, “We have a cold zabaione.”

Add about a third of the flour to the egg and sugar mixture, and beat the batter for about a minute. Add another third of the flour and beat for a minute more.

Add the melted butter and beat for another 30-40 seconds.

Next, add the lemon zest, using either a lemon peeler or a grater. Be careful to add just the yellow part, as the white pith is bitter.

Beat in half of the milk, and half of the remaining flour. Then beat in the rest of the milk and the rest of the flour.

The next step is to butter the ring mold; be thorough, and then flour it, tapping it upside down to remove excess flour.

Add the baking powder and beat it in; Barbara adds a little more milk at this point to make certain that it dissolves. The batter will be quite creamy.

Barbara Lucchi's Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Barbara Lucchi’s Ciambella alla Romagnola: The Batter Into the Ring

Pour the batter into the pan, using a spatula to get the last of it. Give the filled pan a couple of quick shakes, and tap it once or twice against your countertop to level the batter.

Sprinkle some granella di zucchero over the cake. Granella di zucchero, as I noted above, is a coarse-grained sugar used for decorating baked goods that goes by several names in English, including pearl sugar, coarse sugar, or decorators sugar.

You’ll want enough to cover the surface, about a cup I’d say.

Bake the ciambella on a low rack for 40-45 minutes.

Enjoy!

Barbara’s Recipe, Illustrated

Elisabetta’s Quick & Easy Strawberry Dessert

Elisabetta's Strawberry Dessert

Elisabetta’s Strawberry Dessert

Elisabetta and I cook quite differently: I tend to leaf through a cookbook, and the first few times I make a dish follow the recipe. She instead improvises, and when we were asked to bring dessert to Aunt Adriana’s a few days ago we stopped at the supermarket on our way. I would have been frantic, but she instead selected:

  • An Abundance of Strawberries
  • A container of Gelato alla Panna, Vanilla Ice Cream (she opted for Algida)
  • A package of Biscotti Digestive, which are sweet meal biscuits originally developed by McVitie’s, a Scottish outfit
  • A bottle of chocolate syrup
  • A package of fingertip-sized amaretti (almond macaroons), found in the bakery section
  • A package of fingertip-sized meringques, again in the bakery section
  • A package of Mikado sticks, which are sticks made of wafer and dipped into chocolate

When we got to Adriana’s Elisabetta hulled and quartered the strawberries. She then took stemmed goblets with bowls large enough to contain a dessert and put a Digestive at the bottom of each, followed by a squirt of chocolate sauce and a mixture of strawberries and ice cream to fill the cup. More chocolate sauce over the strawberries, a sprinkling of macaroons and meringues, a spot of ice cream to support a mikado, and that’s it!

They went very fast.

Alessio’s Saffron Zuccoto, An Illustrated Recipe

Making Zuccotto: Enjoy!

Making Zuccotto: Enjoy!

A zuccotto is a tasty summer dessert, a well-chilled cream surrounded by sponge cake that gains zest from a hint of liqueur, and though it looks impressive it’s easy to make.

Chef Alessio Pesucci of the Locanda del Gallo in Chiochio (outside Florence) used a saffron cream in this zuccotto, in part because saffron is, like wine, a traditional Tuscan crop.

The use of saffron does require additional time: to extract its flavor Alessio soaked the pistils for 24 hours in cream.

A zuccotto is even easier if you start with commercially prepared sponge cake. However, Alessio, being a fine chef, makes his own.

The ingredients, for 10 servings:

The Cake:

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/8 cup (75 g) sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup (80 g) flour
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) clarified butter (you could, if you had to, use unclarified), melted
  • 1 teaspoon butter to grease the pan
  • 2 teaspoons flour to flour the pan

The Filling:

  • 1 pint (500 ml) heavy cream
  • A pinch of saffron pistils (.5 grams)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar

The Syrup:

  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 3/5 cup (150 ml) water
  • A shot (30 ml, or 2 tablespoons) of amaretto liqueur

Alessio began by pouring about a half cup of cream into a jar, adding the saffron pistils, covering the jar, giving it a good shake to sink the pistils, and putting it in the fridge.

Making Zuccotto: Preparing Torta Genovese

Making Zuccotto: Preparing Torta Genovese

He next made the sponge cake — a Genovese — by beating the eggs and sugar over a double boiler, beating constantly until the mixture reached a temperature of 50 C (about 120 F).

He then cooled the mixture by putting the top half of the double boiler in a pot of cold water, whipping constantly, and then added the flour in one fell swoop and continued to whisk the mixture for several minutes, until it looked right. At this point he gently folded in the butter, and turned the batter out into a 10-inch (25 cm) ring pan lined with oven parchment, and buttered and floured.

He baked the cake in a preheated 380 F (190 C) oven for 20 minutes, and turned it out on a rack to cool. Because the saffron had to soak, everything else happened the next day.

Making Zuccotto: Slicing The Torta Genovese

Making Zuccotto: Slicing The Torta Genovese

Come time to assemble the zuccotto — in this case the next day, when the saffron had released its essence into the cream, turning it a pretty charged yellow — one begins by lining the bowl, which should be about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter and hemispherical.

Cut the cake into two layers and set one aside. Cut the other into thin strips.

Making Zuccotto: Lining the Bowl

Making Zuccotto: Lining the Bowl

Line the bowl with the strips, using smaller pieces to fill in voids. If you want, you can lay the strips in a decorative pattern, but we didn’t.

Making Zuccotto: Filling the Bowl

Making Zuccotto: Filling the Bowl

When the bowl is lined, see to the filling: Chef Stefan combined the cream and powdered sugar and beat them until soft and fluffy. He then spooned the mixture into the bowl, smoothed it with a spatula, and covered it with a round of cake cut from the layer that had been set aside.

And set it into the fridge to chill for 2 hours.

Making Zuccotto: Brushing the Pan di Spagna with Syrup

Making Zuccotto: Brushing the Pan di Spagna with Syrup

Before unmolding the zuccotto, Stephan made a syrup by heating the sugar and water together, stirring gently until the sugar had completely dissolved.

He stirred in the amaretto liqueur and brushed the base of the zuccotto with the syrup (lightly, the cake shouldn’t be soaked). He next put a serving plate over the bowl, flipped both, and removed the bowl to free the zuccotto. At this point he brushed the top as well.

Stephan used a long knife to cut the zuccotto into sections. Since it’s a rich dessert the sections are small.

Making Zuccotto: Remving the Slice

Making Zuccotto: Remving the Slice

Some cocoa powder for decoration (see above), and enjoy!

Lisetta’s Torta di Nocciole, Hazelnut Cake

Hazelnuts are astonishingly delicate, and make for delightful cakes. Though I tend to associate them with Piemonte, thanks to the stands hazelnuts around Alba, they’re popular throughout the North. Lisetta made this cake for a wonderful dinner in Valpolicella and was kind enough to share the recipe. It goes by weight and you may find it easier to calculate it thusly, rather than convert it to volumes.

  • 9 ounces (250 g) toasted hazelnuts
  • 4 ounces (100 g) Oro Saiwa Cookies (Graham crackers will do as a substitute)
  • 4 ounces (100 g, 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces (150 g, 3/4 cup) sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 6 ounces (150 g) baking chocolate, crumbled

Whirl the nuts and cookies in a blender until they’re a fairly fine powder. Combine it with the crumbled chocolate. Cream the egg yolks, sugar and butter until the mixture is pale yellow.

Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C).

Whip the whites to firm peaks. Combine the nut and cracker mixture with the butter mixture, then fold in the whites. Transfer the batter into a cake pan of size sufficient for it to be about an inch deep, and bake it for 30 minutes.

The rest of the meal this was served in.