Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers wrote a number of excellent cookbooks. The one I use most often is the UK edition of The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook (2009). In its Introduction, Gray and Rogers write of their travels all over Italy and the friendships they formed. They met Italian cooks who shared their passion for family dishes passed down from generation to generation. Based on this theme of timeless, local Italian fare, the book’s recipes produce straightforward, comforting food.
A favorite recipe from The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook is a simple ring cake (ciambella) that Gray and Rogers call a Marbled Breakfast Cake. I like this cake because it tastes great and yet not too rich or sweet. Here’s the recipe with my parentheticals notes.
For 6-8; makes a 23cm cake
butter and flour for the tin
4 medium free-range organic eggs
200g caster (superfine) sugar
100g plain (all-purpose) flour
200g blanched almonds, finely ground
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon baking powder
40ml extra virgin olive oil
1 medium free-range organic egg white
a pinch of sea salt
3 tablespoon 100% cocoa powder
2 tablespoons full-fat (whole) milk
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter and flour a 23cm (9-inch) round ring tin or loaf tin measuring approximately 22 x 11 x 6.5cm (8.5 x 4.3 x 2.5 inches). Separate the 4 whole eggs, whisk the 4 whites until stiff, then whisk in the sugar and yolks until thick and pale. Sieve the flour into the mixture, fold carefully to combine, then add the almonds, lemon zest and baking powder. Finally, stir in the olive oil. Whisk the extra egg white with a pinch of salt.
Divide the mixture in half, then add the cocoa powder and the whisked egg white to one half. Fold gently to combine, then stir in 2 tablespoons of milk to slightly loosen this mixture. Both the mixtures should be of the same consistency.
Spoon half the pale mixture into the cake tin, blob the chocolate mixture on top, then cover the chocolate with the remaining pale mixture. This should fill your tin. Use a table knife to cut round the tin 3 or 4 times to marble the mixtures.
Place the cake in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until done. Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean. Turn the cake out of the tin on to a rack while still warm.
Apart from the awkwardness of coaxing a thick-ish batter into a narrow ring pan, this marble breakfast cake doesn’t take a lot of effort. The finished cake makes up for the trouble of using a ring (instead of a loaf) pan: The ciambella, although simple, looks special. If your marbling doesn’t turn out, take solace that the cake pictured in the cookbook doesn’t look very well-marbled either.
One last note: To save time and for convenience, I use Bob’s Red Mill almond flour instead of grinding the blanched almonds.
I highly recommend taking a look at The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook if you want to add a volume to your cookbook collection. The chapter on Pasta & Gnocchi contains 23 recipes and this section, alone, warrants the book’s purchase.