Everyone has one great cake recipe, one that originally come from someone else, but like a favourite pair of shoes sort of moulds itself to you; the quantities firmly implanted in some corner of the brain and ingredients almost always to hand. Mine was for so many years the superbly simple but quite indulgent flourless chocolate cake recipe stolen from the French and made famous by Elizabeth David.
Over the past few years I’ve turned out simpler, more breakfast/afternoon tea kind of cakes, referring most often to a Ciambellone recipe borrowed from my friend Rachel who I like to think of as a kind of contemporary ED. Ciambella in Italian means ring; both the blow up to bob around in the sea kind, and sweet sticky doughnut variety. A Ciambellone follows as the larger version, most often as a ring tin cake. A simple Ciambellone is made essentially of flour, sugar, vegetable oil and a few eggs, is, along with a Crostata (jam tart), what most Italians will bring when asked to ‘bring a sweet’. At the annual cake stall at our Roman school there are Ciambellone and Crostate aplenty.
Rachel’s recipe uses a pot of natural yoghurt, and goes on to use the pot as a measuring device, taking me back to my days as a chalet cook in France, where the chalet girl’s standard afternoon tea cake was known as the yoghurt pot cake. I was as dismissive of the yoghurt pot cake as I was of the other chalet girls, working instead from faxed copies from mum’s recipe book, but time has taught me not to be dismissive of anything, especially simple and effective kitchen tricks. This Ciambellone recipe is as reliable as Italian politicians are not, and can be flavored with whatever feels right on the day.
I have made it with blobs of plum jam twirled through it, in muffin form with fresh strawberries and slivered almonds, with bananas and lemon zest, and just as it is. I think lemon is almost imperative to any version, and as I read on another fine baker Dan Etherington’s blog Bread, Cakes and Ale just this morning, lemon helps to bring out the sweetness in any fruit, allowing the baker to use of less refined sugar. In any case you can cut the sugar quantity as you like and raw sugar is always better, especially if you have golden caster in the pantry. I prefer to use sunflower oil instead of olive oil which I think is too powerful, but if you use lots of lemon in the cake it balances out quite wonderfully.
Ciambellone – for one large ring tin
In a large mixing bowl:
1 pot natural yogurt – use the pot to measure other ingredients
3 pots plain flour (or 2 pots plain flour 1 pot almond meal)
2/3 pot sugar (golden caster or otherwise)
2/3 pot sunflower oil
2 tsp baking powder
2 large free range eggs
Flavours as desired; zest and juice of a small unwaxed lemon, choc chips, fresh berries or spoonful of fruit jam…….
Mix all ingredients thoroughly until you have a creamy batter. Pour into a greased and floured ring tin or other cake tin. Bake in a preheated 180 C degree oven, baking time will depend on the form of the chosen cake tin – the cooked cake should have a good golden color and if in doubt – stick in a wooden skewer to test its ‘doneness’. A clean skewer means a ready cake.