Ciambella Lucchese

Sweet Raisin and Anise Bread from Lucca

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Preparation info

  • Makes

    1

    large ring-shaped loaf
    • Difficulty

      Medium

Appears in

Great Italian Desserts

By Nick Malgieri

Published 1990

  • About

The narrow, winding streets of Lucca strongly evoke an era when it was possible to visit European cities without fear of being hit by a tour bus. Relatively calm and not at all crowded, Lucca preserves many traditions of antique Tuscan cooking, among them the circular ciambella, sometimes called buccellato, from the Latin for “bracelet.”

I like the ciambella lucchese because it is sweet and cakelike yet, since it contains no fat of any kind, is relatively low in calories. Really a bread dough with sugar and seasonings added, the ciambella makes a good breakfast or tea bread.

Ingredients

    Sponge

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup water
  • envelopes active dry yeast or ½ ounce compressed yeast

    Dough

  • cups all-purpose flour
  • cup sugar
  • cup warm water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds

Method

For the sponge, place the flour in a small bowl. Measure warm tap water (about 105 degrees) and whisk the yeast into the water. Stir the yeast mixture into the flour. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to ferment at room temperature until double, about 30 minutes.

For the dough, place the flour, sugar, water, and salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer or a mixing bowl. Add the sponge and beat on the lowest speed with the paddle until smooth and elastic; this should take about 5 minutes by machine. If you are mixing by hand, use your hand to squeeze the dough together, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it by folding it over on itself repeatedly until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Add the raisins and anise seeds to the dough and mix in gently, by machine or by hand. Cover the bowl and allow to ferment until double, about 3 to 4 hours.

Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and fold it over on itself several times to deflate. Form the dough into a cylinder about 24 inches long and place it on a paper-lined cookie sheet. Connect the ends of the cylinder to form a circle and cover with a towel. Allow to proof until double, about 2 to 3 hours.

Bake the ciambella at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes until well risen and a deep golden color, and until a thin knife blade inserted into the thickest part emerges clean. Cool on a rack and then cover well with plastic wrap.

Variation

Form the dough into 2 long, narrow loaves, each about 12 inches long. Place each on a paper-lined pan; proof and bake as before. Although this version of ciambella does not take the bracelet shape of its nickname, buccellato, it is often sold in this form in the bakeries of Lucca. Making this variation will give you a loaf to freeze for later use.