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Mary's Ciambella (Southern Italian lemon cake, using vegetable oil, milk and eggs; flavored with lemon zest)
Originated from: Southern Italy
Occasion: Special events
Contributed by: Mary Melfi

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6 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
Finely grated zest of 2 small lemons (mixed with 1 tablespoon of sugar)

Icing sugar for dusting

Equipment needed
9 inch "tube" pan, greased


Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat eggs and sugar until creamy.

Add oil.

Add milk.

Add flour and baking powder.

Fold in grated lemon zest mixed with sugar with a rubber spatula [Do NOT use an electric mixer as this might make the cake mushy!].

Place batter in a well-greased largish "tube" or "coffee cake" pan.

Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes [To see if it's done do the standard skewer test -- insert a skewer in the cake and if it comes out clean it's ready.].


Dust with icing sugar before serving.


Here is yet another adaptation on the ciambella recipe. This particular recipe I do frequently and I love it (Mind you I keep changing the proportions around, and somehow each time it works out, possibly because it's a very easy cake to get right). Supposedly the traditional "ciambella" cake is flat and ugly, but this ciambella cake derived from a recipe from Molise (Rita Palazzo's) is neither flat nor ugly. In fact, it one of the tallest and best-looking pound cakes around. Why, I might even call it a sponge cake! Well, maybe not, but it certainly has a fine texture. Everyone enjoys it. I sometimes use an angel cake pan to bake it in (as seen in the picture) and sometimes I use a coffee cake tube pan, in either case it works out quite well. I find cakes baked in "tube" pans [light-colored aluminum pans work best for me] cook better and so taste better. I keep experimenting, if I didn't, cooking wouldn't be fun anymore. Even first-generation Italians changed and modified their "traditional" recipes. Prior to World War II Southern Italians used olive oil or lard to make cakes and cookies, mostly because few Italians in the Southern countryside owned cows (Too expensive!) and therefore few (if any) farmers made butter. Almost everyone in the South owned a few olive trees, and so, of course, everyone made use of their fruit. However, as soon as Southern Italians settled in North America, they started to use "vegetable oil" rather than olive oil in their recipes. Cost was not cited as a factor. My mother (and others) complained that olive oil's flavor was too "heavy" or "over-powering" so that's why they switched to vegetable oil. I guess nothing stays the same forever (Well, maybe it did prior to World War II, but no more).... Photo: Mary Melfi.

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