A ciambella is a simple, ring-shaped bread made of egg, shortening and sugar – basically, an Italian Bundt cake. Ciambelle are often served as an afternoon snack at a bar or café. They can be dressed with glazes, syrups or berry compote.
This decadent winter version is inspired by Emilia-Romagna. The fresh chestnuts and chestnut flour bring a smoky flavor and smell that reeks of the Apennines outside of Bologna.
For a decidedly Italian flavor, I soak the currants in grappa, a traditional peasant liqueur. Made from the scraps of what is used to make wine – the skins, seeds and stems – grappa is fermented and distilled. Now thought by many to be an elegant after-dinner drink, grappa comes from humble beginnings.
This moist and delicious cake has an almost pudding-meets-a-cloud-in-heaven texture, thanks to the chestnut flour and the shredded raw apple. The cloves add a seasonal flavor that makes this a logical addition to a special dinner.
½ cup dried currants
½ cup grappa
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1½ cups cake flour
½ cup chestnut flour
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup chopped fresh chestnuts
2 Rome apples (or any soft, tart cooking apple), peeled, seeded and shredded (1½ cups)
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 teaspoons light corn syrup, or more if needed
1 cup mascarpone, at room temperature
Place the currants in a small bowl, add the grappa, and set aside to soak for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a Bundt pan.
In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cake flour, chestnut flour, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix until well blended. Add egg yolks, oil and buttermilk, and, using an electric mixer, beat until smooth.
Drain currants, reserving the soaking grappa. Fold the currants, chestnuts and apples into the batter.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the batter, and then pour the batter into the Bundt pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Remove the pan from the oven and set it aside to cool for 10 minutes. Then invert the cake onto a plate.
In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners’ sugar, 4 teaspoons of the reserved soaking grappa and the corn syrup until smooth and glossy. Pour the icing over peak of cake all around ring; allow to set for 10 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.