Tonight my Sicilian cousin Al came over for dinner and I decided to make a Ciambella. I didn’t have prunes to stew. I did have fresh organic green apples. It would make Nonna Marta proud.
We bought our house 8 years ago and somehow we were fortunate enough to move next door to some of the sweetest Italian/Americans on the planet. Eric’s mom is from Bologna. Marta is one classy chick. She grew up in a castle in Bologna. Her parents had a famous restaurant and she worked there when she was a kid and learned how to make some of the most amazing Bolognese dishes that exist. Our neighbors have become our extended family and we have spent many holidays and birthdays together. Marta always makes a special cake for these festivities. A ciambella. Marisa (her daughter-in-law)and I always fight over who she made it for because Marta puts this exquisite prune filling in the middle. Somehow it happens to be mine and Marisa’s favorite dessert. Yes, prunes. Odd? A little. Maybe it’s because we’re both Sicilian and born a week apart?
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup cake flour
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon shredded lemon zest
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk
4 apples diced and sauteed over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes with about 1/4 cup of water. When the apples were nice and soft I mashed them a little and added some cinnamon and a couple of tablespoons of sugar.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or you could grease it with the tablespoon of butter. Put all the dry ingredients for the dough, including the lemon zest, in a bowl. Blend them thoroughly with your hands or with a fork. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients, using your fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir the egg, vanilla, and mild together. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and add the liquids. Gradually work int eh dry ingredients, tossing them with a fork (don’t stir). You want to moisten and not beat the dough. You could work the dough with your hands. The dough should be moist, lumpy, and sticky. You may need to add more tablespoons of milk and flour until you get the right consistency.
Generously flour a work surface and turn the dough onto it. Lightly flour your hands. Pat the dough out to form a rectangle about 8 inches wide and 13 inches long. Spoon the apple filling down the center, in a ribbon about 2 inches wide. Fold the two flaps of pastry lengthwise over the filling, overlapping slightly. Pinch the seam together down the length of the cake. Pinch the ends together so the filling doesn’t ooze out during baking. And if it does, it’s not a problem.
Transfer the pastry to the baking sheet and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Bake 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 250 F and bake another 25 minutes. You should check it at around 15-20 minutes to see how it is looking. You don’t want it to be too dark. Cut the ciambella into slices of about 1/2 inch thick and enjoy!