Dicembre Dolce: Lina’s Ciambelline

ciambelline fried vert

Note to those local to the DC area: I will be at the University Club of Washington, D.C.’s 26th Annual Meet the Author Night & Book Fair tonight, Dec. 2. Sixty authors and a fun, festive atmosphere. I’ll be signing copies of Ciao Biscotti. Come by and say hi!

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WELCOME to the 5th annual Dicembre Dolce (Sweet December), in which I post recipes for Italian sweets of the season.

I’m kicking things off with a gem that I picked up during my travels in Italy this past year: Lina‘s Ciambelline Fritte. I suppose you could call them doughnuts, but I prefer the more musical Italian name ciambelline [cham-bell-EEN-eh], which translates to “little rings.” There is, in fact, something distinctly Italian about these rings ~ the tender dough, shaped by hand rather than by using a cutter, is sweet but not too sweet, and subtly but unmistakably perfumed with citrus zest.

Lina ciambelline

Lina is cousin by marriage to my culinary tour partners Michael and Nancy Morizio of Abruzzo Presto. On what was probably the most memorable day of our September tour, Lina and her husband, Abramo, opened their home to us and hosted a fantastic day of cooking, eating, and drinking. Lina and I gave a pasta workshop and Abramo gave us all a tour of his cantina. Afterwards, we sat together at a long table and ate our pasta and drank Abramo’s wine and communicated through a creative mix of Italian, English, Abruzzese, and hand gestures. Then Lina fried up batch after batch of these pillowy ciambelline, which we dipped in sugar and ate while they were still warm.

When I asked Lina if she might share her recipe she didn’t hesitate, pulling out a well-worn notebook and opening it to a well-worn page. For some reason it made me happy to see that like me, she hand-writes her recipes in plain old workaday notebooks meant for spatters and scribbles.

The day ended (not surprisingly) with shots of strong coffee, Centerba and other digestivi (liqueurs). In matters of hospitality and generosity, it’s hard to beat the Abruzzesi.

You can find out more about our Abruzzo culinary tour on my tours page and at Abruzzo Presto.

ciambelline before frying

ciambelline fried horizontal

I finally had occasion to make the ciambelline here at home last Sunday as a sendoff for my son who was headed back to college after Thankgiving. I mixed the dough the “old-fashioned” way, mounding the flour on the countertop and adding the wet ingredients to a well in the center. The yeasted dough, enriched with eggs and a riced potato, is soft and pliable, a pleasure to handle. The ciambelline will keep for a day or so, but don’t deprive yourself of the experience of enjoying them hot out of the fryer and freshly dipped in cinnamon-sugar. They are as light as air and absolutely delicious.

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For more sweets, including homemade panforte, biscotti, and tiramisù, check out the Dicembre Dolce archives.

Makes about 28 rings

Lina’s Ciambelline Fritte

A riced russet potato makes the dough for these lemon-scented doughnuts extra tender and easy to work with. Although you could mix the dough in a stand mixer, I prefer to do it by hand, as it keeps the dough light and airy. Plus, handling it just feels good. The fried ciambelline will last for about a day but are best still warm, freshly dipped in sugar.

Ingredients

  • 1 large russet (baking) potato, 8 to 10 ounces
  • 1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup milk, warmed to 110 F
  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 3/4 cup sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, for dipping

Instructions

Put the potato in a pot with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil until tender (you should be able to pierce through it with a cake tester or fork). Remove from the heat and pour out the water. Peel as soon as the potato is cool enough to handle and use a potato ricer to rice it into a bowl. Let cool.

Sprinkle the yeast into the warm milk and stir to dissolve (this takes a little time, as yeast does not dissolve as easily in milk as it does in water). Let proof until foamy, 15 to 20 minutes.

Mound the flour onto a clean surface and make a wide, shallow well in the center. Add the riced potato. Break the eggs into the well and add the sugar, salt, butter, and lemon zest. Whisk briefly with a fork to combine, taking care not to break the "wall" of flour. Carefully pour in the yeast and milk mixture and stir to make a thick slurry. Begin incorporating the flour from inside the wall, adding more as you go until the mixture is no longer sticky. Knead into a ball, incorporating just enough flour to make a soft, pliable dough (you may not use all the flour, or you may need a little more, depending on how sticky the dough is). Continue to knead for a few more minutes, until smooth.

Lightly coat the inside of a bowl with oil and place the dough inside, turning it to coat the surface. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut a section of the dough and cover the rest with a clean towel or plastic wrap. Roll the piece of dough into a fat rope about the width of a finger. Sprinkle a tiny bit of flour on the rope if it is sticky. Cut the rope into 6-inch sections and form them into rings, pinching the ends to seal. Set the rings on a flour-dusted tray or board and cover lightly with plastic wrap or a clean cloth (I use cheesecloth). Continue to shape the dough into rings; you should end up with about 28. Let the rings rise for 30 minutes.

Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches into a deep-sided skillet. Heat on medium-high until the oil shimmers (375 F). Fry the ciambelline, a few at a time, turning them once or twice so they brown evenly on both sides. They fry quickly--within 30 seconds--so watch carefully. Transfer the ciambelline to a rack set over a paper towel-lined tray to drain for a few seconds, then dip them in the cinnamon sugar while still hot.

Although they will keep for a day, these ciambelline are best while still warm, irresistibly soft and tender. Don't hesitate ~ enjoy!

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28 Responses to Dicembre Dolce: Lina’s Ciambelline

  1. Elvira December 2, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    My grandmother used to make these too. She used to say that a famous chef (of a name she couldn’t remember) gave her the recipe. I’m still wondering who the chef was. They look so delicious <3

    • amelia from z tasty life December 2, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

      We absolutely love these in my family. We call them “graffe” and they are super wonderful at the little beach place we go to in Sorrento, dusted in sugar and cinnamon.

      • Domenica Marchetti December 3, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

        I’ve seen them referred to as “graffe” ~ similar to the German word “krapfen.” Beloved the world over, it seems.

    • Domenica Marchetti December 3, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

      I wonder too, Elvira. I know this is a common recipe, found in variations all over Italy under different names. I’ve actually made good old-fashioned American potato doughnuts, too, though I like these better.

  2. Marilena December 2, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

    These look absolutely divine Domenica. I plan to make them when the kids are home for the holidays!

  3. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way December 2, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

    Those look wonderful! I have never tasted them — but that is about to change. We didn’t really eat a lot of sweets — those were saved for holidays and special occasions. I can’t wait to make these. I am so glad Lina decided to share.

  4. Rosa Jeanne Mayland December 2, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    Heavenly and so addictive! A wonderful December treat.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  5. romyjersey December 2, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    Who doesn’t like homemade doughnuts?
    Fab, Fab, Fab….

  6. ciaochowlinda December 2, 2015 at 6:00 pm #

    Oh my goodness. That photo of Lina with all those ciambelline ready to be fried is priceless. You really do meet some of the best people in Abruzzo. What a great send off for your son to head back to college.

  7. prouditaliancook December 3, 2015 at 2:11 am #

    You got me at perfumed with citrus zest! These must be amazing

  8. carol L December 4, 2015 at 6:21 am #

    These look and ssound delicious. My mouth is watering just looking at them. What a lucky son with a wonderful sendoff from his Mom. 🙂
    Carol L

  9. jamielifesafeast December 4, 2015 at 8:17 am #

    Oh these looks so so delicious! And perfect for Hanukkah!! How happy when someone shares a cherished recipe!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 4, 2015 at 8:34 am #

      Yes ~ in fact I just learned the term ‘sufganiyot’ from Cathy Barrow! Cheers my friend. Hope to see you in 2016.

  10. Chiara December 4, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

    una deliziosa ricetta, i fritti sono un po’ pesanti ma qualche volta è bello fare peccato !

    • Domenica Marchetti December 4, 2015 at 8:35 pm #

      Questi invece sono leggerissimi ~ almeno sembrano anche se in realtà sono ricchi. Ed hai raggione ~ ogni tanto ci vuole, vero? 🙂

  11. Angela Potter December 4, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

    I am so excited to try this recipe. Thanks, Domenica! I hope all is well with you, and that you’re enjoying the holiday season!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 4, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

      Hi Angela! Thank you for stopping by. Enjoy making the ciambelline. They’re so good fresh out of the fryer, especially on a cold morning. Cheers and happy holidays, D

  12. Frank Fariello December 6, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

    These look incredible! Never tried a sweet dough with potato, but it makes perfect sense.

  13. Adri Barr Crocetti December 7, 2015 at 11:12 am #

    Oh my! It’s Frybabes at work! I always enjoy your Dicembre Dolce posts, and this one takes the cake, so to speak. What is it, anyway, about Italian girls and fried dough? Gotta have it.

    These look wonderful, and I love that you made them entirely by hand. Bravissima! The shot of Lina with that giant tray of risen Ciambelline just waiting to slide into their bath of hot oil is a classic. The recipe sounds fab. I especially like the touch of citrus. Have you ever made Grispelle? They are made with sweet potatoes, and are just terrific. I could go on forever about these treats, call them what you will.

    • Domenica Marchetti December 7, 2015 at 11:50 am #

      Adri, I have not made grispelle, though a couple of people have mentioned them to me. I did post a recipe for sweet potato frittelle years ago when I first started this blog. I’ll have to look up grispelle and see how they compare. Personally, though, I’m waiting for your pistachio bomboloni!

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