The simple and airy Ciambella cake of the Italian Jews. Yiscah Basi Oppenheim. Photography: Shutterstock
The simple and airy Ciambella cake of the Italian Jews. Yiscah Basi Oppenheim. Photography: Shutterstock
Recipe

Ciambella Cake

A simple and airy Italian cake for breaking fast that sits in the center of a beautiful holiday table, encompassing the traditions of generations - including a vegan atonement

I am Italian on both sides: Gila and Yehuda (Giorgio) Piperno – my maternal grandparents (of my mother Naomi Bashia)- are from the Jewish community of Rome. And Shaul and Piara Bashia, the parents of my father, Yonatan Bashia, come from northern Italy, from the city of Ferrara.

During the Tishrei holidays, every Jewish community in Italy would celebrate with a slightly different custom, and for many years I only observed the customs of the Ferrara community from my grandmother Fiara’s (Ravenna) home in the late 19th century- I even had the privilege of interviewing her and receiving written instructions, in her hand, for the observance of said holiday customs (see photos). Only in recent years have I added the traditions from my Roman grandmother and grandfather’s house, and so my blessing’s were doubled.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, Grandma Piara used to set up the “Shulchan (table) Kippur” on which there were pomegranates, quinces, apples and lemons – you should have an etrog, but it is difficult to find one during this season, since all of them are reserved for Sukkot, so Grandma would take a lemon and tell it ‘you will be etrog’- and all around she scattered wheat kernels. In addition, grandma would pour water into a cup and cover it. “The cup is waiting for an angel to fly through the open window and drink from it tonight,” she would say.

In the center of this table stood the Ciambella di Kippur, a simple round bundt cake – a cake with a moral, if you will (I only recently noticed the double meaning) – a symbol of the cycle of life. The cake is covered with a napkin and we eat it to break fast on Yom Kippur, to the side of the cake we place the prayer book for the holiday.

The Difference in the Seeds

Up to this point, the two Kippur tables were quite similar for the two grandmothers who lived next to each other in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu. The presence of the wheat kernels was the difference: in both houses the seeds, which symbolize hope for a blessed year, are planted by the children of the family. For Ferrara Jews, and therefore for Grandma Piara, the seeds are planted after Yom Kippur. With the Jews of Rome, and therefore with Grandma Gila, we would plant them already on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and water them for ten days of penance.

The fate of the sprouts also varies from family to family – some families follow the tradition of the geniuses: spin the bowls of sprouts over the children’s heads while saying ‘this is under this and this is my replacement and this is my exchange’ and throw the sprouts into the river- a kind of local-vegan version of the practice of atonement. In my family, they used to place the sprouts (or seeds, depending on which grandmother) on the table during the break meal, next to pomegranates, quinces, apples and arugula or pomegranate, and at Grandma Gila’s they would be used in the sukkah as decoration.

Ingredients for Cakes for Breaking Fast

  • 6 eggs large, separated
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 lemon zest and juice
  • 1 cup flour + more for dusting mold
  • 1 tablespoon oil or melted butter, or oil+butter to grease the mold

Instructions

  • 1. Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees. Grease mold with oil, butter or melted butter and flour it. Turn and shake lightly to get rid of excess flour.

  • 2. Beat egg whites with 1/4 cup of the sugar at high speed in a mixer with the whisk attachment for about 7 minutes until you get white and airy foam.

  • 3. In a separate large bowl, beat the rest of the ingredients to a uniform mixture.

  • 4. Transfer a third of the egg whites to the bowl with the cake mixture and gently fold in with a rubber spatula. Fold in the rest of the egg whites in thirds until you get a uniform mixture.

  • 5. Pour the cake batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

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