ciambellone, an italian tea cake

A ciambellone is a simple, sunny Italian tea cake with lemon zest and a rich crumb typically baked in a tube pan, which gives it a torus shape, i.e. the appearance of a doughnut, which is, in fact, what Google Translate tells me is the translation of ciambellone. As I can never resist the siren call of either an everyday cake or a doughnut, I am unequivocally here for this.

lemon zest

When someone told me last month the version at Caffe Marchio — which is described as a “rich, Italian-style bundt with a lemon glaze” — is one of her favorite cakes, and even found the recipe on the internet for me (subtle hint, there), my first thought was: but wait I already have a lemon cake that I know and love. Ina Garten’s assertively lemony lemon pound cake is a Top 5-level cake classic; you bring it to housewarmings, as host gifts, to teachers; everyone loves it. So, I broke the recipes out into proportions and found that the Caffe Marchio version uses oil instead of butter, more of it, a bit more sugar too, a combination of mascarpone and yogurt instead of buttermilk, and a lot less lemon. Why should I make a more rich, more sweet, and more mildly flavored cake than one I already like, you might ask? I mean, I did. So, I made them both, fully doubting that there was anything new worth needing to know in the land of citrusy tube cakes, and the ciambellone stopped me in my tracks.

in a donut-y panciambellone, still a bit too much for pan
ready to bakeciambellone, seriously overfilled

It has a glorious, indescribably perfect crust, yes, crust. Even when I overbaked it, it was still one of the best parts of the cake, second only to the lush, plush crumb within that not the tiniest bit dry, no basting of simple syrup required. Rather than having to wait that impossible wait for it to fully cool to glaze it, you slather on a more glossy one when the cake is piping that sets into a finish that looks exactly like a glazed donut. How did I resist putting sprinkles on top of something called a doughnut? I don’t know, either, but I trust you’ll do the right thing.

ciambellone with actually the best crust ever
ciambellone, extra donut-y


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Four years ago: Cherry Almond Dutch Baby
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3.5 Years Ago: Jelly Doughnuts and Endives with Oranges and Almonds
4.5 Years Ago: Eggnog Florentines, Linzer Torte, and Breakfast Slab Pie

Ciambellone, An Italian Tea Cake

The cake keeps for days at room temperature and goes so well with all of the berries currently in season at breakfast, for an afternoon snack, or for dessert, ours was gone at a disappearance rate usually associated sunken jammy strawberries, streuseled blueberries, and marbled bananas.

Written below is an 80% level of the cake, as I’d found the original too voluminous for some bundts. Bundts are generally 10-cup or 12-cup; the one shown here is 10-cup and the original volume nearly overflowed and took so long to bake through, the edges got too dark, although they still tasted amazing. I’ve also shown this cake in a ring pan mostly because why make it a little doughnuty if you can make it a lot, right? For this pan, I recommend a 60% level of the original cake, as it holds only 7 cups.

This recipe recommends you use a plain, not Greek-style, yogurt. If you only have Greek yogurt (like me), simply replace the last tablespoon of yogurt with water. The original recipe calls for lemon zest in the glaze but I skip it because I thought the texture would be distracting.

  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons fine sea or table salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest of half an orange
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (325 ml) neutral oil (such as sunflower, safflower, grapeseed or another vegetable oil)
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (about 185 grams) plain, not Greek, yogurt (see note)
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (20 ml) vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups (390 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Glaze
  • 1 cup (120 grams) powdered sugar
  • Scant 2 tablespoons (30 ml) corn syrup
  • About 3 tablespoons (45 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Make cake: Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat bundt or tube cake pan (check notes for size tips) with nonstick cooking spray and coat with granulated sugar. Knock out any excess sugar from pan.

Place sugar and salt in the bottom of a large bowl and use your fingertips to rub the zest into it. This abrasion helps release the most flavor from it. Whisk in oil, mascarpone, yogurt, and then eggs and vanilla until smooth. Sprinkle baking powder over batter and whisk it thoroughly into the batter, a good 10 turns around the bowl. Sift flour onto batter and use a rubber spatula to stir just until batter is smooth.

Drop batter in large scoopfuls equally around your cake mold, then smooth, and drop on counter a few times to ensure there are no trapped air bubbles. Bake for about 40 minutes (times will range by shape and volume of pan), checking in at the 30 minute mark to rotate the pan for even coloring, and to ensure it’s not baking faster than anticipated. Cake is done when a toothpick or tester comes out batter-free (crumbs are fine).

While the cake bakes, make the glaze: Whisk sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice together until smooth, adding the last tablespoon of juice just if needed. You want this glaze thick, thicker than your regular drizzle glaze, because we want it to stick to the sides of the cake when it’s hot.

When cake is done, let it rest on a cooling rack for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove it from the pan — yes, while piping hot. Brush glaze evenly over the top of the cake, and sides if you wish. Chef Weiss says “Use all of the glaze! Don’t be cheap.” And I listen to her. Glaze will set as cake cools.

Cake is good at room temperature for 4 days. I loosely, really loosely, cover it with foil.


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