In the last instalment of my little series about the joy of having rediscovered breakfast, I bring you a breakfast item that is perhaps more nourishing to the soul than the body, but nourishing nevertheless.
When people talk about “good” food or “healhy” food, I always start to squirm because I believe that something can be classified as “good for you” or “healty for you” and make you absolutely sick.
Case-in-point, I have always heard it said that All-Bran Buds are very good for you and that may, in fact, be the case. Unfortunately, All-Bran Buds disgust me beyond belief. I don’t know if it’s the texture or the taste or a combination of both, but I would positively never eat again if I had to eat those for breakfast every morning (with apologies to the good people at Kellogg’s). So yes, I might be having a “healthy breakfast”, but what is the benefit to me if said breakfast leaves me unhappy and dissatisfied?
Honestly, I don’t see much merit in that.
I left this particular post to the last for my series because while the subject of this breakfast might hold very little bodily nourishment, it is manna to my soul.
What you see pictured above is what in Italian we call, Ciambellone. I’m not posting a link because depending on where you find yourself in Italy, ciambellone can refer to many different things. When we would go to Italy and we’d visit my paternal grandparents, my grandmother would serve ciambellone for breakfast. A cross between a bread and a dry cake, we would have large slices of ciambellone in the morning with our milk and coffee.
How many childhood breakfasts began this way? The foundation of every Italian child’s breakfast had to be a mug of hot milk with a few drops of espresso. As you got older, the espresso content increased so that the milk to espresso ratio was relatively equal. But as a child, a few drops of espresso, enough to colour the milk, already made you feel like you were almost grownup.
And so onto this foundation, my grandmother would lay the ciambellone. In this age of refined, sugary sweets, I’m not sure how many children would actually like ciambellone. Since we were not exposed to store-bought cookies as children, homemade cookies and cakes were the pinnacle for us.
While I love my fancy cakes and while I am the first in line for the incredible confections of a pastry chef, this home baking of my childhood resonates so deeply.
And to this day, my favourite breakfast (next to pancakes), is a mug of steaming, frothy milk and espresso with the dry, flavourful cookies my maternal grandmother used to make expressly for dunking. And while ciambellone is not something we baked (the one my paternal grandmother served us in Italy was always bought from the bread store), the very idea of it just makes me feel whole and happy.
I cracked open the great Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
and made some minor adaptations to her recipe for this beautiful bread/cake.
I enjoyed making this so much that I kneaded it by hand. The added elbow grease just made the end result that much more desirable. My changes are subtle but even if you own the cookbook and follow the original recipe, you will not be disappointed unless you’re expecting a moist cake. This is a cake for dunking. Period.
I’m not sure what the nutritional value is, however, that is not the point. This makes your stomach and your heart happy, and surely there can be nothing healthier than that.
Adapted from Marchella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
Note: The cake will keep for a week as long as it’s tightly wrapped in plastic wrap or sealed in an airtight container. I think it tastes better the older it gets and it’s more enjoyable to dunk it!
1 stick butter (8 tbsp.), unsalted
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
zest from one medium orange (finely grated)
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup whole milk, lukewarm
2 extra large eggs (you can use large but you may need some extra water)
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup warm water
Line a baking sheet with parchment and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and let cool slightly (for about 5 minutes).
Heat the milk and set aside.
Combine the flour, sugar, salt and zest in a bowl and whisk together, set aside.
Add the melted butter and the milk and mix until you have a slightly wet mixture. It will still look dry.
Separate one of the eggs (set aside the yolk). Put the other egg and the egg white from the separated egg into the flour mixture. Remove a bit of the set aside yolk and place it in a small bowl (you will use this as an egg wash). Put the remaining egg yolk in the mixture.
Begin gathering the mixture together. If it’s still dry and doesn’t come together, start adding water. I find I always have to add water for this to come together. I usually add about a quarter of a cup of warm water. What you’re looking for is a dough that comes together and has the consistency of a lumpy dough. It will not be smooth.
Once it’s come together enough that you can roll it into a rope, do so. You can make the rope as long or as short as you like. I usually make mine about 10 to 12 inches. The length and thickness of the rope is up to you. Mine tends to be a couple of inches thick at least. Bring the rope together in a ring and seal the connected ends carefully.
Brush the ring with the leftover egg yolk and place in the oven. In my oven, I bake this for 40 minutes so that it’s nice and golden but the original recipe indicates that you should bake it for 35 minutes.