If there’s one place in the world that I feel at home, other than Wales, it would definitely be Italy. I couldn’t tell you exactly why, I think it’s a combination of everything… the people, the food, the architecture, the culture (not to mention the considerably better weather!), it’s the most captivating country I’ve ever visited. Needless to say, having this year’s travel plans thwarted by COVID is a little disappointing, Cinque Terre & Sicily will have to wait until better times, but I can still pretend & bring a little bit of that Italian charm to South Wales… whilst I may not have the weather I do have the bakes.
Over the years I’ve lost count of how many Italian cakes, pastries & breads I’ve devoured alongside far too many espressos. Somehow though, with packed itineraries, we’ve always managed to walk off those calories (yes, I am that person, itineraries rule), I am not hopeful of that right now though. Luckily, food is one area of the Italian language that I don’t have too much trouble with, so if nothing else, I can always order us a bite to eat & an Aperol spritz. Most of this I’ve picked up on our travels & through the countless Italian cookbooks in cookbook corner.
I love scouring markets & little shops abroad to find the sorts of things that I couldn’t easily pick up back at home… mainly any specialist bakeware or local cuisine cookbooks. I find the cookbooks a great way to pick up the lingo, especially the food descriptive words & ingredients. This way I can not only learn the language but also learn how to recreate some of my favourite eats.
One such eat was an unassuming little cake I picked up in a little pasticceria in Perugia. It was a last minute visit to pick up a few pastries to see us through a gruelling 6 hour train journey to our next destination, Termoli. The cake was a beautifully golden ring-shaped cake, a ciambellone studded with chocolate chips & candied peel.
It was early morning so there were plenty of fresh bakes still to choose from, we’d just finished breakfast at a little coffee bar on Piazza IV Novembre so I wasn’t too hungry eyed going in (not that it would make much different where pastry is concerned) but I still managed to order a small selection of whatever caught my eye. A smartly dressed, elderly gentlemen had just finished placing his order & it was for the ciambellone, he took away a whole half of cake. I thought to myself that it must be pretty good then so I went ahead & ordered two slices which were promptly weighed, wrapped & in my bag headed for the train station.
I was so intrigued by this humble little cake that I actually unwrapped & demolished my slice right there on the train station platform undeterred by the Frecce wizzing by. Like all good Italian food, this cake was simple but well executed. It was light but hefty, it had a good moist crumb with a delightfully subtle citrus flavour balanced with plenty of dark chocolate chunks. Before I knew it, it was gone (fast forward to two hours later & so were the rest of the pastries!).
Ciambellone is actually the name given to any ring-shaped cake as opposed to a specific type of cake. What goes in a ciambellone varies widely by region & baker, but what they do all have in common if that they will be made with few, simple ingredients & of course be ring-shaped. This cakes beauty lies in it’s simplicity, it’s not extravagant, it’s not unnecessarily covered in fondants of creams, it is what it is, a humble, flavourful cake. It is made without fuss, comes together quickly with simple inexpensive ingredients often found already in the pantry. My take on this cake follows the simple flavours of citrus & chocolate that I enjoyed so much on that platform at Perugia Fontivegge.
(makes one 24cm bundt/savarin)
- 3 large eggs
- 200g caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- zest x1 orange
- 250g ricotta
- 250g plain flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 100g dark chocolate chips
- 1 tbsp icing sugar (to dust)
- Grease a round 24cm bundt or savarin baking tin
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs & caster sugar until light, fluffy & doubled in size
- Add the vanilla extract, orange zest & ricotta to the bowl & beat together
- Sift over the flour, salt & baking powder & carefully fold this through the mixture
- Add the chocolate chips to the bowl & fold these through the mixture until evenly distributed
- Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin & bake at 180C for 35-40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out cleanly when removed
- Leave the cake to cool completely in its tin for 10 minutes before removing
- Once cooled sift over the icing sugar