Cooking Italy: Ciambella and Double Berry Shortcake

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Ciambella is an Italian coffee cake that is usually lemony and a cross between a pound cake and a shortcake, as in strawberry shortcake. Easy to make, delicious for breakfast with coffee, and I even like it in a bowl with milk and berries.

Ciambella means life saver, and it is made in the shape of a giant donut. I made it this way the first time and then liked the texture so much for one of my favorite desserts, strawberry shortcake. I have one of those pans that makes the cute shortcake bowl and made a half recipe to make six individual cakes. The recipe calls for lemon zest and I used orange zest the first time and meyer lemon zest the second. Both give a great flavor.

Marcella remarks in her book that this cake is even better the second day and I agree. The citrus flavor has settled in. I like that this cake stays together with very little crumb and can take the moisture of fruit.

Our Cooking Italy group had a discussion about the dryness of the batter and difficulty rolling it out to a long roll in order to make the circle prior to baking. I found an increase in warm milk necessary and took it from 1/4 cup to 1 cup. My suggestion is to start at 1/4 cup and keep adding until you feel the batter is right, but no more than 1 cup of milk. Then flour the batter and it should roll out quite easily. This is really an easy cake to make, but is a bit unorthodox in that you knead it on the counter for a minute or so although it’s not a yeast bread; it’s really a quick bread. This large size will probably give you 12-16 servings.

I thought the cake reminded me of shortcake and I took out my pan that makes short cake shapes and did a half recipe, which made six servings. I cut the top off (you can see top left) and then it sits flat. Fill with fruit and put the cap back on.

Recipe for Ciambella and Double Berry Shortcake (adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) by Marcella Hazan


  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • zest of one lemon
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4-1 cup of warm milk
  • 2 eggs, reserving 1 t of egg white for wash


  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Heavy baking sheet
  3. Butter and flour for baking sheet (or use a baking stone as I did)
  4. Melt butter in microwave, to warm, but not hot.
  5. Mix zest into sugar with your fingers.
  6. Add dry ingredients including sugar into large bowl.
  7. Add milk. Add eggs. Mix together. If too dry, add up to 1 cup total of warm milk.
    The original recipe calls for only 1/4 cup of warm milk. Start with that and add more as needed. I used between 3/4 and 1 cup in each recipe.

To make ciambella as a coffee cake: Batter is sticky, place on floured board, add flour as needed, roll into large sausage shape and make into a circle. Use egg white mixed with a t of water to brush on cake before baking. Place on baking sheet or baking stone for 35 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting.

To make shortcakes: You can use a shortcake pan or muffin tin. Full recipe makes 12. Cut in half, stuff fruit and whipped cream. It’s also nice to add in a little milk. The density and crumb of this cake can handle it (or ice cream).

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