A buccellato is a ring-shaped traditional Italian cake. There are two distinct variations of the buccellato, one which is native to the island of Sicily and the other which is associated with the Tuscan city of Lucca. While these regional variations contain some of the same basic ingredients, they are generally quite different in both appearance and taste. The Sicilian version of the cake is often quite ornate, and is usually baked for special occasions such as christenings and Christmas. In Lucca, on the other hand, the cake tends to be quite simple, and is frequently served as an accompaniment to one’s morning coffee.
The name buccellato derives from the Latin word buccella, meaning “mouthful.” Historical writings show that a ring-shaped bread known as buccellatum was eaten by the ancient Romans. It is possible that the modern-day buccellato of both Sicily and Lucca evolved from this Roman bread.
Sicilian buccellato tends to be quite ornate in appearance. It usually consists of a pastry dough made primarily from flour, butter, sugar, and eggs which is wrapped around a filling of dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, rum, and spices. The filled dough is formed into a ring, baked, and sometimes then decorated with sugary icing, candied fruit, nuts, or marzipan.
In Sicily, this type of cake is associated with celebrations. It is often shared at Christmas time. In addition, it is traditionally given to an infant by its godparents on that infant’s christening day. Christening buccellato is regarded as a symbol of good luck for the child.
While the buccellato of Lucca may be far less elaborate than its Sicilian cousin, it is considered an integral part of the local cuisine, and may be eaten on a weekly or even a daily basis. Some argue that an authentic Lucchese buccellato should contain just flour, eggs, sugar, yeast, and anise, which are combined and then baked in a ring shape. Others allow for the addition of raisins or nuts. In either case, the cake remains fairly simple and is dominated by the flavor of anise.
This version of the cake has a shelf-life of a week or more. Even when it begins to grow hard after several days, Lucca’s natives do not consider it spoiled. Instead, they have devised a clever solution for re-softening the cake: they cut it into generous slices and then dip it into their morning coffee or their evening wine.