I brought with me a little sachet of salt, a time-honored remedy to ward off evil spirits, when visiting two Medieval borghi on La Riviera dei Fiori...
You hear the word ‘ciambelle’ a lot in Italian baking. There are so many different types of ciambelle, ciambellette and ciambellini! Sweet, savoury, baked, fried, soft, hard, cookie, cake, or bread – you name it!
Ciambelle di pane (bread ciambelle) is an Italian equivalent of a ballpark pretzel or bagel. We won’t play the what-came-first-game, just know that the chewy bread-like goodness on the inside and crispiness on the outside of this bread always leaves you wanting more! They make a great snack on their own but make the perfect accompaniment to cured meats, cheeses, and antipasto. The traditional addition of anise seed is what sets these ciambelle apart. Not an herb you use often but trust us, you will like it!
Large wicker baskets filled high with ciambelle di pane have traditionally always been a part of weddings and other celebratory feasts in Italy as well as at most street markets, especially in the Ciociaria area of Italy. It would be a familiar sight to see people carrying ciambelle like bracelets on their arms as they walk ‘in-crocietta’ (arm in arm) around street festivals.
We were told that back in the day, there were no toys to speak of so children considered it a special treat to receive a doll shaped ciambelle hugging an egg from La Befana!
We are so fortunate to have some amazing nonnas that collaborate with us. We are always asking a hundred and one questions to make sure we get the process and ingredients right, especially with these types of recipes that involve a few extra steps. Don’t let the process fool you though - they really are easy to prepare. This is stiff dough so we suggest making it by hand unless you have a powerful dough mixer. You may be tempted to just mix it all at once and forget about the resting periods in between but it is an important step.
Our featured nonna for this recipe had not heard of ciambelle di pane growing up in her hometown in Italy but since she married into a family where these are considered a staple, she knew she had to quickly learn how to make them. She loves to try new recipes and soon became one of the go-to Nonna’s for ciambelle di pane. As we chatted and listened to her reminisce, she recited the following quote which we love!
“La vecchia non si voleva mai morire perché s’insegnava sempre cose nuove.” – The old lady never wanted to die because she kept learning new things.
Enjoy and let us know how yours turn out!
There is a quick video at http://nonnasway.com/ciambelle-di-pane/ demonstrating the technique in shaping the ciambelle.
• 7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water plus 1/2 cup extra to incorporate all the flour
• 1 tablespoon yeast
• 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
• 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
• 1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds
• 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water then sprinkle yeast on top. Cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes or until the yeast is foamy (activated).
2. On a large work surface, form a well with the flour.
3. Add the salt and anise seeds to the flour.
4. Pour the activated yeast mixture into the centre of the well. Add the vegetable oil.
5. With your hands, bring in a little flour from the well walls at a time and slowly incorporate all the flour. You may need to add a little extra water to incorporate all of it.
6. Knead by hand for 5-10 minutes then cover in food safe plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes to allow the flour to absorb moisture.
7. Knead for another 5 minutes and let rest wrapped again for 5 minutes.
8. Knead again for a few minutes then cut the dough into 100 gram portions and set aside in a food safe plastic bag to rest for 15 minutes.
9. Prepare a large pot of water with 2 tablespoons of salt and place on stove to boil. Preheat oven to 400F degrees.
10. Take one piece of dough at a time and with slightly moistened hands, knead and roll at the same time until you have a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter by 18 inches long.
11. Flatten the rope with the palm of your hand and twist (see video).
12. Make a small slit at one end of the rope about 2 inches from the end, slide the other end through until the ends are the same length and pinch where they join at the slit to seal.
13. Let the first three rest until the next three are done and then start to boil them in batches of three.
14. Carefully place three at a time in the boiling water and let them rise to the top. After about 35 seconds turn them over for another 20-30 seconds or until the dough is 'plump'.
15. Remove and place on a clean, dry cloth to dry. If the seam happens to loosen you can use a toothpick to hold while baking (remove toothpick immediately after coming out of the oven).
16. Once the boiled ciambelle di pane are dry, carefully transfer directly onto the middle and top racks of the oven.
17. When they are lightly coloured gently turn them over (about 12 minutes) and bake until lightly browned all around (about another 12 minutes). Check frequently and remove the ones that are coloured.
Make sure the anise seed is clean of stems and seed shells. Check the label to see if they are already clean.
Important not to let the dough rest too much or boil too much. You want most of the rising to happen in the oven to get that chewy texture.