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Italian breakfast cake

Thu, 1 October, 2020

Ciambella sounds like ‘ciao, bella!’ Or is it just me? Anyway – it’s fine to eat cake for breakfast. When in Rome…

italian breakfast cake

Roman breakfast cake

When I offered a slice of this cake to Alice and Mouse, explaining it was a Roman breakfast cake, they were awed. ‘How did you even find a Roman recipe?’ asked Mouse. ‘Did they have icing sugar back then?’ enquired Alice.

ciambella with berries

Roman - or Roman?

‘Roman’ seems to prompt first thought of the ancients and only then, with disappointment we realise it can also refer to the modern era of The Eternal City.

I didn’t blame them in the slightest – I have long thought that Roman Holiday, one my mother’s favourite movies, was a costume drama. O tempora, o mores, o whatever.

ciambellone with berries

So what's this Italian breakfast cake like?

Once we clarified the age of the recipe, they enjoyed the cake very much.

And rightly so – it’s light and spongy, and airy and fragrant with the lemon and only just the right amount of berries studded in the crumb here and there. And both Alice and I were pleased to be reassured in our long-held belief that having cake for breakfast is perfectly proper.

roman breakfast cake

It's a ciambella!

I found Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in NYTimes Cooking but as she admitted, it was her interpretation of cake she’d had for breakfast in Rome.

I have since established that she meant ciambella or ciambellone, Italian ring-shaped cake, customarily served in Rome (as in now, modern times) for colazione.

Ciambella is baked in ring tins, flavoured with lemon or orange, with occasional berries but the Italians make short shrift of Dorie’s separated eggs, beaten meringue and delicate folding. They beat whole eggs together with the rest of the ingredients, presto, pronto.

I like a little faff in cake making though, or being grown up about my cake as The Weather Man puts it, so I followed Dorie’s instruction – cutting down sugar almost by half.

cake from Rome

Breakfast cake - not too sweet

Whatever you, I or Alice will say, cake for breakfast is all right but not if it’s too sickly sweet.

Dry cake, pound cake, sponge cake but hardly chocolate eclairs or Black Forest gateau – those firmly belong with the sun over the yardarm. So Dorie’s original 300g of sugar was an overkill.

served for breakfast in Rome

Roman cake - it's a ring tin

The cake is gorrrgeous – but for a caveat. It might be my tin (aluminium, decent quality) or my oven (I doubt it! *angry frown*) but the first time I baked and unmoulded it, it was barely baked on the outside – the batter closest to the tin was still tacky.

I since tweaked the baking time to allow the sides to bake but hence the weird instruction below to poke at the side of the tin to check, rather than the middle.

You could even gently run a palette knife down the side, like you were loosening it up to turn out, to check if it comes out dry.

Otherwise – no alternative but grab the blowtorch! Just kidding, but there’s a thought.

Italian breakfast cake

Servings: 12Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


  • 200g (1½ cups) plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 250g (1½ cups) blueberries, raspberries and/or blackberries
  • 200g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • zest grated from 2 lemons
  • 6 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 120ml (½ cup) vegetable or olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon (2-3 tbsp.)


1. Thoroughly butter and flour a 25cm/10in ring or Bundt tin. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas4.

2. Stir together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl. Set aside. Toss the berries with a spoonful of the flour mix and set aside as well.

berries in cake

3. Place the sugar in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer. Grate the zest into the sugar and rub it in with your fingers. Add the egg yolks.

4. With a paddle attachment to a standing mixer (or regular beaters of a hand-held) beat the sugar with the egg yolks until thick, pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes; scrape the bowl. Keep beating and pour in the oil in a thin steady stream. Still beating, pour in the lemon juice in a thin stream. Beat for another minute, scrape the sides of the bowl and add the flour with baking powder. Mix at low speed until smooth and completely incorporated; scrape the sides again.

cake batter

5. Place the egg whites with the pinch of salt in another large bowl, change the attachment to a balloon whisk (or thoroughly clean the paddles if using the hand-held mixer). Beat at high speed until stiff peaks.

stiff peaks

6. Add a heaped spatula of meringue to the cake batter and stir to loosen the mix. Add the rest of the meringue and fold in gently taking care not to deflate, until the white is incorporated. Fold in the berries.

roman cake batter in a ring tin

7. Pour the batter into the tin, smooth and level the surface. Bake for 55-60 minutes until a skewer inserted around the side of the cake* comes out clean. Tent the top loosely with foil after 40 minutes if it’s browning too much.

8. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the tin until it’s cool to touch. Run a palette knife around the sides and turn the cake out onto the rack. Cool completely and dust with icing sugar if you like.

9. The cake will keep at cool room temperature for 2-3 days.

*it could be just my tin or oven but this cake sometimes comes out underbaked on the outside even though the middle is completely cooked.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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