All Food February continues on An Italian-Canadian Life with one of my favourite breads to have in the house: ciambelle with fennel!
Ciambella (or chiambella) is a word used for pretty much anything round with a hole in the middle really, even cakes appear with this name. However, this is a bread that is a crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-in-the-middle, great-for-dipping-or-with-cheese kind of bread that I always like to have in the house. My mother started making this bread after getting the recipe from a friend and it’s become one of my family favourites. I believe she’s perfected getting the outside crispy. It freezes very well, so they are easy to keep and then warm up in the oven to have with dinner or appetizers.
Besides just being awesome bread, I now expect it for any family gathering, it’s just part of tradition. But my favourite memory with this bread happened just last year. My husband and I served it for the first time to his grandfather. His Nonno immediately began to tear up. Turns out, his sister (since passed) used to make this bread for him all the time and he hadn’t had it since he was quite young. It brought back all sorts of memories for him. For Christmas, we baked up a double batch and brought him a huge basket full to store in his freezer and have whenever he wanted. He was thrilled and still talks about it. Best. Christmas. Present. Ever. That’s an old recipe come to life.
Ciambelle with Fennel
12 cups of all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons of dry active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups warm water
Mix together the water, sugar and yeast and let it activate. Meanwhile, in a large bowl mix together the flour, salt and fennel. Once the yeast is ready, mix it together with the eggs and oil.
You can create the dough by hand or in a large mixture. To do it by hand, on a wooden board, make a mound with the flour mixture and create a well in the middle. Into the well add in the egg mixture and begin to incorporate it into the flour using a fork, working around the edge of the well. As it comes together, knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.
If you are using a large mixer, put the flour into the bowl and add the egg mixture to it. Using a dough hook, mix the ingredients together. Continue to knead it until the dough is smooth and elastic and not sticky at all.
Place the dough in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and a towel. Allow it to rise until it doubles in size. Once the dough has risen, it’s time to prep for the second part of the process. Put a large pot of water on to boil and preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Turn out the dough onto a well-floured wooden board. Cut off portions of the dough to work with immediately and cover the rest, in reserve, while you are working. Roll out your dough to create a rope about 18 inches long and 1 inch thick. Be sure to slightly flour your hands before doing this and use your palms to roll. When you have your rope length, use one hand to hold one end still while using your other palm to roll the rest of the rope creating a slight twist in the dough. Bring the two ends together and join them to form a large doughnut shape. You’ll need to press the ends together and roll them slightly with your palm.
It’s important that you do not allow the dough to rise again, so create six or seven ciambelle to work with to start. When you have your ciambelle, drop one (or two if the pot is very large) into the boiling pot of water. They should rise to the top immediately. When they rise, turn them over and let it boil for one minute. Remove and drain on a dish towel. Repeat with the remaining ciambelle. This process is what give the ciambelle their shiny crust.
When all six have been boiled, place the ciambelle directly on your oven grates and bake in the top third of the oven. Bake for about 10-12 minutes on each side, for a total of 20-22 minutes or until a medium golden. In a convection oven, where the element is not exposed, cook them on the middle rack. Enjoy them while they are hot, or freeze and reheat in the oven later.