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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.

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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

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.

La Pasqua Napoletana: La Pastiera Napoletana, Neapolitan Grain Pie

La Pastiera Napoletana

La Pastiera Napoletana

Neapolitan Cuisine has many dishes identified with one festival or another, which in the past were made only then: le lasagne del Carnevale, for Carnival, struffoli at Christmas, and a several Easter pastries, the most important of which is the Pastiera, a centuries-old dish that appears in innumerable versions, each made according to a closely guarded family recipe.

“Nobody escapes its allure,” writes Caròla Francesconi in La Cucina Napoletana, “an allure due not so much to its goodness as to a subconscious love that’s transmitted from generation to generation.” One has to remember that she’s writing for Italians here; the ingredients are particular and this is something a non-Neapolitan might find quite strange. However, anything that can burrow into the regional psyche, bearing with it the “perfumes of spring,” is powerful stuff. The major variations are in the amount of acqua di arance, a non-alcoholic somewhat oily orange essence (if you cannot find it use orange extract) and the use of crema pasticcera (pastry cream), which some families include and others do not.

As I said, this is particular; it requires presoaked grain, which takes time to prepare (In Italy one can find canned presoaked grain, and you may be able to find it near your house). To start from scratch, purchase 1/2 pound whole grain and soak it in cold water for two weeks, changing the water every two days (this is Caròla Francesconi’s soaking time; another cookbook suggests three days, changing water daily). Come cooking time, drain it and cook the amount indicated. The pastiera is traditionally served in a 10-inch diameter round metal pan with a two-inch rim; Neapolitan pastry shops sell the pastiera in the pan and it is presented so at even the most elegant table.

The pie crust:

  • 1 pound (450 g) flour
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) lard (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • 4 yolks

The grain:

  • 1/2 pound (225 g) well-drained soaked grain
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) milk
  • The zest of a half an orange
  • A walnut-sized piece of lard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The filling:

  • 10 ounces (about 300 g) ricotta (purchase this fresh from a delicatessen)
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 vial (1/4 cup) acqua di fiori d’arancio — if you’re using orange extract to taste, but I would think less
  • A pinch powdered cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup minced candied citron
  • 1/4 cup minced candied orange peel
  • 1/4 cup candied squash (cocozzata, in Neapolitan)

Begin the day ahead by cooking the soaked grain with the milk, zest, lard, sugar and vanilla over an extremely low flame for at least four hours, or until the grains come apart and the milk has been absorbed, so that the mixture is dense and creamy.

The next morning make the pie crust: Make a mound of flour, scoop a well in the middle, and fill it with the lard, sugar and yolks. Use a fork or pastry cutter to combine the ingredients, handling the dough as little as possible (don’t knead it). Once you have obtained a uniform dough press it into a ball and cover it with a damp cloth.

Pass the ricotta through a strainer into a large bowl, stir in the 3/4 cup sugar, and continue stirring for 5-6 minutes. Next, stir in the yolks, one at a time, and the grain. Next add the orange water; begin with half the amount and taste. Add more if you would like it orangier, keeping in mind that the aroma will fade some in baking. Stir in the cinnamon and the candied fruit as well, then whip the whites to soft peaks and fold them in.

Roll out 2/3 of the pastry dough and line the pan. Fill it with the filling. Next, roll out the remaining dough and cut it into strips, which you will want to lay across the filling in a diagonal pattern (lift them from the pastry cloth with a long spatula to keep them from breaking). Bake in a moderately hot oven (180 C or 370 F) for an hour or slightly more. The filling should dry almost completely and firm up, while the pie crust should brown lightly. Serve the pie in its pan, and continue to enjoy it over the next few days for breakfast.

You may be wondering about the pastiera’s origin. Like the Cuccia Siciliana it’s a miracle dish, born of the arrival in port of a grain ship during famine: The people were so hungry they threw the grain directly into the pot rather than grind it and bake bread. It’s fitting that it now be used to celebrate Easter. Should Pastiera require more time than you have, you could make Teresa De Masi’s Migliaccio Napoletano (another classic spring pastry and a touching recipe) instead.

Other Neapolitan Easter Recipes

Pellegrino Artusi’s Strudel Recipe

Artusi's Strudel

Artusi’s Strudel

Pellegrino Artusi published La Scienza in Cucina e L’Arte di Mangiar Bene, the first truly successful Italian cookbook, in 1891 – when he was past 70 – and continued to work on new editions until shortly before his death in 1910. The book is still selling briskly today, in part because the recipes are good and in part because his commentary is great fun. And here are his instructions for making Strudel, a pastry he no doubt introduced to many of his readers.

Don’t’ be taken back if the ingredients that go into this pastry remind you of a hodge podge, or if its appearance, when cooked, calls to mind something ugly, like an enormous leach or a disgusting slug. You’ll find you like it.

  • 1 1/4 pounds (500 g) gray pippin or other good quality, soft  apples
  • 2 cups (250 g) flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) unsalted butter, plus a piece the size of a walnut
  • 1/2 cup (about 85 g) Corinth Raisins
  • 4/5 cup (about 85 g) powdered sugar
  • The grated zest of a lemon
  • 2 to 3 pinches of powdered cinnamon

Mix the flour with warm milk, a piece of butter the size of a walnut, a lightly beaten egg, and a pinch of salt, so as to obtain a fairly stiff dough, which you should let rest for a bit before using.

Peel, core and slice the apples finely. Roll the dough out into a sheet as thin as you would if you were making taglierini (a type of pasta; the sheet should be about as thin as a dime). Next, spread the apples over the central part of the sheet, leaving the edges exposed.

Spread the raisins, lemon zest, cinnamon, and sugar over the apples, then melt the butter and sprinkle almost all of it over the apples too.

Roll the dough up on itself to form a roll and put it on a buttered pan; grease the outside of the strudel with the remaining butter and bake it.

My note: Artusi was often hazy on baking times and temperatures; bake your strudel in a 400 F oven (200 C) for 20 minutes, and then lower the temperature to 350 F (175 C) and bake 10 more minutes.

Returning to Artusi, he concludes by noting that Corinth, or Sultana raisins differ from passolina raisins in that the former are small and black, whereas the latter are larger and light brown, and says to scrape the lemon peel with a piece of glass to obtain the zest.

A note: Strudel does invite improvisation. When my mother-in-law made the strudel I photographed, she added dried plumped cranberries and chopped walnut meats to what Artusi suggests. It went very fast.