A ciambella is a ring-shaped cake about 10 inches across, with a hollow center. As such the name describes a form rather than a specific type of dough, frosting, or combination thereof, and it should come as no surprise that there are many variations on the concept. Indeed, a ring-shaped angel food cake of the kind popular in the United States would qualify as a ciambella. If one can make a generalization, it is that ciambelle tend to be fairly simple cakes, of the sort that in the past were baked for family use, rather than for dinners with guests.
As you might expect, recipes for ciambelle call for ring molds, which can be either smooth sided or ribbed. Though helpful they're not strictly necessary, however. As Fernanda Gosetti points out, you can make do with a round high-sided cake pan and a heatproof smooth-sided bowl: Place the bowl open end down in the middle of the pan. Roll the dough of your cake into a sausage shape and wrap it around the bowl (which should be buttered and floured, as should the pan, unless the recipe warns you not to), then bake the cake. If you're using a liquid batter, I suggest you wrap the interior of your makeshift tube pan with aluminum foil, crimping the edges of the sheets together so the batter won't seep through them.
Removing a ciambella from a tube pan isn't difficult: let it sit for about five minutes after removing it from the oven, then run a thin-bladed knife around the mold to be sure the upper part of the cake has come free from the sides of the pan, cover the pan with a plate, and flip everything. The cake should come to rest on the plate. If the mold was ribbed you will want to have the decorative ribbing visible. If, on the other hand, the mold was plain and you decorated the upper surface of the batter before it went into the oven, you'll want that side up when you serve the cake.
Artusi gives a couple of recipes for ciambelle, neither of which were included in The Art of Eating Well (my translation of his book) for want of space. The first, which is involved, makes a tremendous amount, and would be a nice recipe to work with if you enjoy giving simple cakes as gifts. The second, as Artusi observes, is easier and more suited to family use. It also produces a more manageable amount. Other cookbooks also give recipes, though they are not as common as one might expect -- perhaps because ciambelle are so simple few think to include them. It's a pity, because they are quite tasty as desserts, and also are wonderful at breakfast with a cup of coffee, especially espresso. What's more, when tightly wrapped they keep quite well. One warning: if you have pets, put your ciambella away. One of our cats once unwrapped one we had left out and gave it a thorough licking.
Good Food & Drink,
Text & photo © Kyle Phillips.