Nostalgia, love those moments at the dinner table with family and friends. Memories shared of a time quite some time ago in Italy. Usually they have my undivided attention as I almost get lost in their words and feel myself being transported in time, back to when things were simple and festivities were important, as there were no computers, cell phones, and televisions, only families getting together to enjoy each other’s company sharing foods that were cultivated by their land and recipes done generation after generation specifically for the festival that was being celebrated. The women working magic hands into the dough and laughing and sharing, kids running around and some helping, the Nonna (grandma) directing the helm, and guiding. The men playing cards and having wine also joking and yelling sometimes as Italians are very competitive and passionate when it comes to games. Fires going as it is the only heat supply, and candles burning to provide light for the work at hand, such a beautiful picture, this would make a great Norman Rockwell.
Christmas has passed and things have gotten back to routines, only there is a missing of Christmas in the air, some houses still have the trees up and lights on outside, maybe they are Ukrainian and get to celebrate two Christmas’s, as they use the Julian calendar which lags 13 days behind, and Christmas for them is on the 7th of January, or maybe some will leave decorations up till Chinese New Year, which happens in around the 19th of February. The great thing is that if you have friends of these cultures maybe you can get invited and keep the festivities going, lol, only a thought. Well, today’s recipe is a Nostalgic one coming from years of tradition and family memories. Ciambelle are kind of like an Italian pretzel. Beautifully braided, with a nice crusty outside and a chewy bread texture on the inside. This recipe came from a province of Italy known as Frosinone, in a region with tremendous war history, and in this province to a town called Sora, with my mother taking the kitchen by storm taking over like an Italian army conquering an area, and working her magic to bring back the memories and the recipe for Nonna’s Ciambelle di Sora, translated Grandma’s braided bread pretzel rings of Sora.
A pretty easy recipe starting with a mixer with paddle attachment and blending flour, shortening, baking powder, salt, and a distinct ingredient called anise seed, with its licorice flavor adding such a unique taste to these wondrous ciambelle rings. Then the best part my mom has this big wood board laden with much history, down goes the mixture, and with her hands she kneads this mixture into a beautiful smooth soft ball of dough. There should be a work out class instead of spinning they could call it kneading. A great workout for arms and shoulders, chest and abs, lol.
Precisely by eye she cuts pieces of dough and using her hand she rolls them out to form these uniform strands of chord. Then the artist comes out of my mother and she braids these ciambelle beauties, then make circles out of them by pinching the two ends together, and she will be stubborn and say these now have to sit and rise! In a cup my mom Ilia beats up some egg whites feverishly to brush on top of the ciambelle after they have risen. Into a hot oven the ciambelle go and bake till the surface displays this gorgeous golden brown color, then out of the oven and put on a sheet on the table to cool. I can never wait till they cool, I break one open and the steam escapes, and with great sage meditation proceed to eat this ciambella without burning the inside of my mouth. You can smell the anise and that ever so tempting smell of fresh bread, the texture crispy on the outside but once you break that open, you are in a soft pillow of breadness that I think a nice dab of butter would take these to another level of goodness, but being Italian butter is not an ingredient that is used a lot in house holds, I guess I could dip it in a good quality cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, now that’s Italian! Better yet let’s do this old school and get some gorgeously thin sliced mortadella, an Italian style cold cut, and wrap the mortadella around this ciambella then bite in. It is kind of like and inside out sandwich, absolutely delicious bite after bite of this intensely flavored luncheon meat, combined with the crunch of the crust of the ciambelle, then taken home to that soft stretchy rustic bread flavor. Yummy.
Bring some Nostalgia to your kitchen with these Nonna’s Ciambelle di Sora, your family will love them.
Thank you ma! for this piece of history and your passion for cooking! With that being said, all to the table.
Mangia! Mangia! (Eat! Eat!)
Song of the day: “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin.Print
- 5 cups all-purpose flour (or type 00)
- 4 Tbsp (heaping) Crisco shortening, cubed
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 4 Tbsp anise seeds
- 2 tsp (heaping) instant yeast
- 1 egg white (for glazing)
- lukewarm water as needed
- In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, Crisco, salt, anise seeds and yeast until smooth.
- Add water till mixture forms a dough.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it for a couple minutes smooth and pliable.
- Cut dough and roll with hands into a 12″ long cord and about a 1/4″ in diameter
- Take 2 of those cords and braid. Then form a circle and pinch ends of dough together.
- Continue until you have used all the dough.
- Leave braids to rise for at least 1/2 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Beat the egg white and brush it on the braids.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown in color.
- Take out of oven and let cool.