Make Ahead

Nonna's Ciambella (Nonna-Approved)

October  4, 2012
Author Notes

Adapted from my mom's recipe for the classic Italian breakfast/snack/dessert cake. Every region in Italy has its favorite way of making ciambella. Some are shaped like giant donuts; some are dense; some are like cookies. This cake version hails from San Marino, where my mom and dad are from. It's perfect for dunking into cafelatte or white wine. It always made an appearance at every family gathering. It's probably the first cake I ever ate as a baby. And it was most likely dunked in white wine.

It's not a moist cake, so if you're looking for that, this is not the cake for you. Adding a simple lemon glaze on top will add some moistness, if that's what you're craving. Instead of sprinkles, a generous sprinkling of sugar on top of the cake before baking will leave you with a nice, crunchy layer

Traditionally made with shortening, and I'm guessing lard back in the day, the cake can be made using vegetable oil as well. And if you prefer butter, go for it, just remember to use very soft butter.

The cake freezes beautifully. If you make the 8 1/2" rounds, each one will fit into a zip-top gallon bag very comfortably. Great to stash in the freezer and pull out at a moment's notice. —mrslarkin

  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 35 minutes
  • Makes one 9" x 13" pan, or two 8 1/2" pans
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature, or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large lemon, zested
  • 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 dash sprinkles (optional)
In This Recipe
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Set an oven rack to the one above the middle.
  2. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch baking pan, or two 8 1/2 inch round cake pans. If you are planning on removing the cake(s) to a serving platter, line pans with greased parchment paper. It will ease cake removal.
  3. Cream shortening (or oil), sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Continue beating until mixture is lighter in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  5. With mixer on low speed, mix in half of the milk. Mix in 3/4 of the flour mixture. Mix in the rest of the milk. Mix in the last of the flour.
  6. Gently spread batter into pan(s). Add some festive sprinkles, or not.
  7. Bake for about 35 minutes for the oblong pan, about 30 minutes for the round pans, and until nicely golden and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

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