You hear the word ‘ciambelle’ a lot in Italian baking. There are so many different types of ciambelle, ciambellette and ciambellini! Sweet, savoury, baked, fried, soft, hard, cookie, cake, or bread – you name it!
Ciambelle di pane (bread ciambelle) is the Italian version of a ballpark pretzel. Chewy bread-like goodness on the inside and crispy on the outside. Oh and see that knot where the circle joins? Everyone battles for that cause it’s the yummiest!
The traditional addition of anise seed is what sets these ciambelle apart. Not an herb you use often but trust me, you will like it!
Nonna Paola was kind enough to show us how to make these. She is very patient luckily for us because we are always asking a hundred and one questions to make sure we get the process and ingredients right, especially in these types of recipes that involve a few extra steps.
But don’t shy away from making these. They really are easy to prepare.
The two of us have really come to appreciate the many great conversations we get into with all the nonnas and nonnos we visit. We love to hear about their life back home, their journeys to “America” and their many experiences here as immigrants. Having been privy to so many great stories, opinions and nuggets of knowledge has been fantastic. On this note, we’ll share a quote that Nonna Paola shared with us and then get on with the recipe:)
“La vecchia non si voleva mai morire perche s’insegnava sempre cose nuove.” – The old lady never wanted to die because she kept learning new things.
Now on to the recipe! This is a stiff dough so Nonna Paola suggests making it by hand unless you have an industrial dough mixer. You may be tempted to just mix it all at once and forget about the resting periods in between but it is an important step. Depending on the brand of anise seed you get, you may have to clear it of the stems and shells first. This can be quite a tedious task so if you can find the McCormick brand, it comes already cleaned.
We were ‘forced’ to try the ciambelle di pane (wink, wink!). Nonno Luigi brought out some of his cured prosciuttino and Nonna Paola cut open a wheel of aged cheese. Yes, we are spoiled! It’s a little late in the year to show you how to cure your own prosciuttini right now but we’ll cover it next winter for sure cause it’s super easy and you wouldn’t believe how good it is. For now, try making these ciambelle and enjoy!
- 7 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water plus 1/2 cup extra to incorporate all the flour
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water then sprinkle yeast on top. Cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes or until the yeast is foamy (activated).
- On a large work surface, form a well with the flour.
- Add the salt and anise seeds to the flour.
- Pour the activated yeast mixture into the centre of the well. Add the vegetable oil.
- With your hands, bring in a little flour from the well walls at a time and slowly incorporate all the flour. You may need to add a little extra water to incorporate all of it.
- Knead by hand for 5-10 minutes then cover in food safe plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes to allow the flour to absorb moisture.
- Knead for another 5 minutes and let rest wrapped again for 5 minutes.
- Knead again for a few minutes then cut the dough into 100 gram portions and set aside in a food safe plastic bag to rest for 15 minutes.
- Prepare a large pot of water with 2 tablespoons of salt and place on stove to boil. Preheat oven to 400F degrees.
- Take one piece of dough at a time and with slightly moistened hands, knead and roll at the same time until you have a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter by 18 inches long.
- Flatten the rope with the palm of your hand and twist (see video).
- Make a small slit at one end of the rope about 2 inches from the end, slide the other end through until the ends are the same length and pinch where they join at the slit to seal.
- Let the first three rest until the next three are done and then start to boil them in batches of three.
- Carefully place three at a time in the boiling water and let them rise to the top. After about 35 seconds turn them over for another 20-30 seconds or until the dough is 'plump'.
- Remove and place on a clean, dry cloth to dry. If the seam happens to loosen you can use a toothpick to hold while baking (remove toothpick immediately after coming out of the oven).
- Once the boiled ciambelle di pane are dry, carefully transfer directly onto the middle and top racks of the oven.
- When they are lightly coloured gently turn them over (about 12 minutes) and bake until lightly browned all around (about another 12 minutes). Check frequently and remove the ones that are coloured.
- Make sure the anise seed is clean of stems and seed shells. Some brands come clean already.
- Important not to let the dough rest too much or boil too much. You want most of the rising to happen in the oven to get that chewy texture.