The appeal of “breakfast cake” is instant and obvious – but talk to Tania Pietracatella and you’ll soon realise that Italy’s ciambella del mattino could easily become a life-long love affair.
“We love it because it’s simple and it’s a perfect match with caffe or a glass of ‘latte’ in the morning. We love to dunk things in our morning drinks and the ciambella is good to do that with, but you’ll need a teaspoon handy in case it plops in your cup.
"It’s not too sweet and smells crazy good. It’s also great with jams or cream on it and it’s ridiculously quick and easy to make,” says Perth-based Pietracatella of why she and her family love this ring-shaped Italian cake.
"It’s not too sweet and smells crazy good. It’s also great with jams or cream on it and it’s ridiculously quick and easy to make."
“I remember as a little girl my zia [Italian for aunt] would make it all the time for breakfast,” adds Pietracatella, who's the owner of The Little Italian School, where she teaches Italian language and cooking classes. “My nonna and mamma aren't really bakers, but when my mamma saw how much we loved zia’s ciambella, she learnt how to make it and would often bake it for us. I remember waking in the morning to that soft scent of sweet lemon wafting out of the kitchen and knowing we were in for a treat.
“So now every time I make it I take a trip back to my childhood days in Italy. Zia and zio had, and still have, a house in the old historic part of our hometown Campobasso, in Italy. It wasn’t renovated until I was in my 20s, but before then I remember the kitchen had an open wood fireplace and was really tiny and dark. When I think back now I wonder how on earth zia managed to pull off those amazing dishes that were prepared in the most uncomfortable space, and in such large quantities. It made me realise I can create anything if I use my imagination a little.”
These days, Peitracatella uses her zia’s recipe as a base for her ciambella; as she writes in a post on the Little Italian School website, where she shares a recipe for ciambella allo yoghurt, datteri e noci (ciambella with yoghurt, dates and walnuts), “I usually always make the same ciambella al limone, which the family love for la colazione (breakfast), unless there is something in the fridge like ricotta, cream or yoghurt that may be close to its use-by date. If so, then I'll usually use 'un po` di fantasia' (a little imagination) and add something different to the ciambella. I hate waste, and this is such a great way to waste less.”
Silvia Colloca, host of Cook Like an Italian, is also a fan. She shared her ciambellone di limone e ricotta with SBS Food in her earlier series, Made in Italy and has two more on her website – a blood orange and buttermilk ciambella and a lemon and olive oil ciambella “Quite simply, my personal idea of comfort food," says Colloca. "I suppose you can trace this back to when I was a child and mum would invariably turn to this treat for a Sunday afternoon tea. There was nothing more soothing than hearing those familiar kitchen sounds from my bedroom, where I’d be pretending to do my homework." In the current season of Cook Like an Italian, she makes a marbled version with her son, Miro.
“Ciambella is a sweet symbol of every Abruzzi nonna. However, the recipes can vary immensely. Whichever way you prefer your ciambella it can be found in the kitchen in the morning to dunk into your coffee or served with a family on a Sunday afternoon,” she says in the show. “Ciambella is one of the most popular cakes in Italy. They are made all over Italy in various ways. Our favourite way is to make it with the ricotta because it gives the most beautiful flavour and texture … don’t be alarmed when you add the ricotta in. It’s going to look a bit lumpy but when it bakes that all disappears. It becomes part of the flavour, the texture and it’s quite unique and absolutely beautiful.”
Pietracatella has her zia’s recipe on her Instagram, along with a blueberry version, showing just how versatile the recipe can be.
"I grew up watching the women in our family create dishes using what they had, which was very little believe me. ... They were also a generation of women who lived post war when food was scarce, if there was any at all, and they had to be creative. ‘Waste’ wasn’t even an option. Watching them has taught me that you can use recipes like this ciambella as a base and throw in anything you might otherwise have to throw out. Things like overripe fruit, nuts, dates etc. You can also substitute the milk for yoghurt or cream if that's what you have in your fridge. However it turns out, it’s always going to be better for you, and no doubt tastier, than anything store-bought in a packet," Pietracatella says.
Different gluten-free flours can deliver varying results. It's best to check the packet or brand website for suggestions on ratios when replacing wheat flour with gluten-free alternatives.
There's no food colouring to be seen in this cake - the iridescent green is thanks to pandan extract. Pandan leaves grow abundantly in Southeast Asia and, as well as adding colour, adds a softly herbaceous and aromatic note to baking.
Once this cake is cooked, it’s soaked with a lemon syrup. It’s a beautiful cake that seems to please everyone. For me it’s more an afternoon treat than a dessert.
Saffron is said to have landed in Sweden during the 1300s, thanks to trade with Asia. Its consumption was reserved for feasts and holidays, when it appeared in sweet cakes, breads and buns. Yeasted saffron cakes are still popular in the region, particularly on December 13th, when Saint Lucia's Day is celebrated. This cake, either the whole or in part, freezes well.
A popular dessert served for Rosh Hashanah, this cake is sweetened with honey and flavoured with spices, orange zest and coffee. The honey symbolises hopes for a sweet New Year and also alludes to the Promised Land that flows “with milk and honey”. Honey is so highly regarded in Jewish culture that it is a permissible food according to Jewish dietary laws, even though bees are considered a non-kosher species. While it is traditionally served plain, we’ve finished our cake with an orange icing topped with pecans.
Who doesn’t love a good marble cake? There is something so appealing and festive about the beautifully marbled swirl that appears when you cut off a slice.
This teacake couldn’t get more nourishing or delicious. It’s perfect for afternoon tea, but healthy and sustaining enough for breakfast. Simply combine a truck load of green apples with a quick and easy batter of eggs, flour and coconut sugar.
This recipe takes its inspiration from the buttery cakes often served in the teahouses of Kerala. If using a homemade garam masala mix, don’t be tempted to add any more garam masala than the recipe calls for - a little goes a long way. However, if using store-bought spice mix, you can double the quantity.