Make Ahead

Nonna's Ciambella (Nonna-Approved)

October  4, 2012
3 Ratings
  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 35 minutes
  • Makes one 9" x 13" pan, or two 8" or 9" round pans
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

What You'll Need
  • 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 (any type of milk or milk alternative will work, even kefir!)
  • sprinkles (optional)
  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 25 - 30 minutes for the round pans, and until nicely golden and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Dina Moore-Tzouris
    Dina Moore-Tzouris
  • Droplet
  • luvcookbooks
  • lapadia
  • mrslarkin

9 Reviews

Dina M. December 9, 2014
I just made it with oil--and it's perfect. It reminds me so much of the one my grandmother made. She was always annoyed at my grandfather for dunking--but this cake is made for dunking. It totally stands up to dunking into our wine, and I'm sure will be great at breakfast tomorrow.
mrslarkin December 9, 2014
I'm so glad, Dina! I love this cake a lot.
Droplet June 13, 2014
Mrs Larkin, do you happen to know what sprinkles are called in Italy?
mrslarkin June 13, 2014
Hi droplet. I think they are called codette .
Droplet June 13, 2014
Thank you very much :). I've been wondering for some time.
mrslarkin June 13, 2014
You're welcome! Also could be palline di zucchero. I may try to make this tomorrow with oil instead of shortening.
Droplet June 13, 2014
I was thinking oil, too. That should make it somewhat moister, and I can reduce the sugar slightly and sprinkle it on top instead. I love how the sugar crystals reflect the light and make the sprinkles look even happier :)
luvcookbooks December 18, 2013
I would eat anything covered in sprinkles. They are so pretty!

lapadia March 5, 2013
Yes please!