A Sweet Taste of the Past


Because I can’t help it, I stare at my perfect ciambelline. They’re not impeccably shaped, kind of rustic rings, homey really, shimmering with the sugar crystals that melt into a sparkling stain the moment you touch them.  Golden brown and tender, delicate but satisfying, they dissolve in your mouth leaving a trail of vanilla that soon will be only a memory, but one you won’t forget. Simple breakfast cookies, made quickly by hand, using my precious envelopes of Italian flavorings that I buy every trip to Italy.  Just in a neighborhood supermarket in Portici, you know, next to the citron and orange canditi, to the Perugina cocoa powder, around the corner from the shelf where the stack of red and white packets of my beloved Kimbo coffee await me.  They’re lined up evenly on a cooling rack, the ciambelline, and their old-fashioned perfume subtly scents the air, and my kitchen is suddenly Italian and I close my eyes, listening for my ghosts.  No, this isn’t a cherished family recipe my mother used to make cheerfully on a Saturday night.   She made uncomplicated cakes – Pane degli angeli, a golden buttery cake lighter than a sigh; torta all’arancia, an intense orange cake, deep yellow with egg yolks and freshly grated orange peel; delectable fruit crostate, thick with cherry or apricot jam; but these traditional tea biscuits never.  The recipe is actually from the Italian baking powder company itself, the famousPane degli Angeli, made with their products, including their heavenly vanilla powder, but it is of Colli al Volturno that these special treats remind me of, my father’s home town in Molise.  Thick, homey, solid but tender tea biscuits were often offered to us by the locals, made in ancient brick ovens that some of the farmhouses had, deep, cavernous, blackened ovens that were used regularly to make special traditional baked goods, even though everyone had their modern gas ovens in their well-equipped kitchens.  Some of these biscuits were light in color, a gentle gold, and tasted like lemon groves and vanilla beans melded together in a heady aroma.  Sometimes they’d be dark brown, rich with Dutch cocoa, meltingly tender, hearty and addictive.  Sadly, I was too young and uninterested in the culinary arts then to ask for the recipe, but I have the feeling that, had I done so, I would have received a hpictureesitant and vague reply, as such recipes tend to be ancient and well-kept secrets never to be revealed to someone who is not a direct – and worthy- descendant.  But here are my lovely ciambelline, sugary and pretty, and my daughters will smile in the morning when they see the heaping plate on the table, while I prepare foamy milk and espresso.  Allora, I’m offering you my recipe, dear readers, but keep in mind that to obtain the taste that will transport you to the Italian countryside, only the Italian flavorings will do
Here is the recipe

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