I adore simple cakes and desserts. I am not a fan of heavy, sweet frostings or cream laden desserts or snacks.
I do appreciate our traditional Italian pasticceria (pastries) such as soft cream puffs filled with custard, sfogliatelle (a superb pastry, layered like a clam shell filled with a cheese filling), pasticiotti (small “pies” filled with vanilla or chocolate custard), liquor soaked baba au rhum and many other delicious pastries.
My famiglia purchased pastries for hundreds of gatherings and celebrations from the best Italian bakery in upstate NY, Villa Italia. We would visit this place after church on Sunday and pick up a large white box filled with pastries to bring to family and friends that afternoon.
My cousin, Susanna, worked there when she was in high school which was pretty cool as she got to see the inner workings of this locally famous bakery. Dan, the girls, and I love to stop there when we visit upstate; we look forward to the wonderful smell of the bakery combined with the sweet aroma of freshly brewed espresso— just a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or evening.
My Mammina Loreta avoided these cream-filled concoctions with a passion and always made her own biscotti and cakes that were very simple and classic in flavor. She never wrote her recipes on paper which made my search a bit difficult.
I did find a recipe for a traditional simple cake made in the region of Roma that is mostly enjoyed for breakfast with coffee or for a light snack in the afternoon or evening. I adapted this recipe a bit and added extra lemon zest and the zest of orange; I just love the fresh taste of citrus.
NOTE: (The original recipe is found at www.cakeduchess.com) Lora, cook and author of the Cake Duchess blog, really knows her Italian cakes and I thank her profusely for this recipe.
This ciambella ala romagnola torta (cake) is perfect for when you need something a bit sweet, but not overly heavy. It keeps well for a few days and can also be stored in the freezer for a short period.
ciambella alla romagnola
2 cups unbleached flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 pinch of sea salt
zest of 1-2 medium size lemons
zest of 1 large orange
4 eggs; separated into bowls (yolks and whites at room temperature)
2/3 cup of unsalted melted butter
1 cup warm whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
large granular decorating sugar or confectioners sugar for dusting
Butter and flour generously, a metal tube pan or bundt ring pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
Place melted butter aside until needed. In a medium deep bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add both the zest of the lemons and the orange to the flour mixture.
In your stand mixer bowl, beat the egg whites until they form very stiff peaks that stay in place. Remove the whites to another bowl, in the stand mixer bowl, beat the yolks and sugar until well blended.
Add in about half of the flour mixture and blend. Add in the melted butter and beat for about a minute or two. Mix in 1/2 of the milk and vanilla until well blended. Add in the remaining flour and the milk and allow to mix until done.
Remove the mixer bowl from its stand and gently and slowly fold in some of the whipped egg whites, being careful not to over mix here. Continue adding the whites in segments until all the whites become incorporated into the final mixture.
Pour the finished batter into the prepared ring pan; decorate the top with the granular sugar f desired and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the torta is light golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Note: Photography provided by Annette L. Venditti