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Ciambella is an Italian dish that is basically a ring cake, although the exact recipe and method of baking it varies from region to region. Most often, ciambella is a simple cake — either formed into a ring or made in a ring mold — that is flavored with lemon zest and sometimes sweet, fruit-flavored liqueur. For holiday versions, the cake can be made of a firm, breadlike dough that is braided and then shaped into a ring. Less frequently, the cake can be made in very small doughnut shapes. The contents of the cake are usually sweet, but leavened versions might contain, and are served alongside, savory ingredients.
The defining feature of ciambella is the shape of the cake. It is always formed as a ring, no matter the size. Many cakes are very light and airy, with few ingredients, and are intended to be served with sweet sauces such as fruit syrups or liqueurs. Some are more like bread and use yeast to proof the dough, after which it can be braided or formed into a ring and then baked. If there is no hole in the center of the cake, it is generally not considered ciambella.
In the simplest form, ciambella can be made from flour, butter, sugar, eggs, milk and baking soda. The ingredients are prepared in much the same method as other traditional cakes. They are placed in a ring mold that has been coated in butter and then baked in an oven until the cake has finished cooking. The completed cake can be dusted with powdered sugar and then served.
Another version of ciambella involves using yeast to raise dough that has some sugar in it. The exact contents of this type of dough can vary from one area to another. It can be made from flour and sugar to make a dense cake, or it can contain ingredients such as parboiled potatoes and onions to make a savory cake. This type of dough can be braided, as it often is during Christmas or Easter preparations.
The sweet versions of ciambella can be served with fruit glazes, chocolate syrups or whipped cream. They occasionally are filled with almonds or cut into layers and the layers dressed in icing. The savory version can be used as a side dish, much like bread, for meals such as shrimp, pork or appetizers such as antipasto.