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Ciambella, a simple, delectable cake fit for a holiday table

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 8:04 p.m.

A ciambella is a simple ring-shaped bread made of egg, shortening and sugar — basically, an Italian Bundt cake. Ciambelle are often served as an afternoon snack at a bar or cafe. They can be dressed with glazes, syrups or berry compote.

This decadent winter version is inspired by Emilia-Romagna. The fresh chestnuts and chestnut flour bring a smoky flavor and smell that reeks of the Apennines outside of Bologna.

For a decidedly Italian flavor, I soak the currants in grappa, a traditional peasant liqueur. Made from the scraps of what's used to make wine — the skins, seeds, and stems — grappa is fermented and distilled. Now thought by many to be an elegant after-dinner drink, grappa comes from humble beginnings.

This moist and delicious cake has an almost pudding-meets-a-cloud-in-heaven texture, thanks to the chestnut flour and the shredded raw apple. The cloves add a holiday flavor that makes this a logical addition to Christmas dinner.

I'll be with my family in Michigan. Rest assured, our table will be replete with ciambella.

Mario Batali, whose latest book is “Molto Batali” (Ecco, $29.99), contributes a column twice a month.

Chestnut-Apple Ciambella

½ cup dried currants

½ cup grappa

Butter and flour for greasing the Bundt pan

1 cup packed light-brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1½ cups cake flour

½ cup chestnut flour

½ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

6 eggs, separated, at room temperature

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup chopped fresh chestnuts

2 Rome apples (or any soft, tart cooking apple), peeled, seeded and shredded (about 1½ cups)

2 cups confectioners' sugar

4 teaspoons light corn syrup, plus more if needed

1 cup mascarpone, at room temperature, for serving

Place the currants in a small bowl, add the grappa, and set aside to soak for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a Bundt pan.

In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cake flour, chestnut flour, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix until well blended. Add the egg yolks, oil and buttermilk, and, using an electric mixer, beat until smooth.

Drain the currants, reserving the grappa. Fold the currants, chestnuts and apples into the batter.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the batter, and then pour the batter into the Bundt pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven and set it aside to cool for 10 minutes. Then, invert the cake onto a plate.

In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, 4 teaspoons of the reserved grappa and the corn syrup until smooth and glossy. (If it is too thick to spread, add another teaspoon of corn syrup.) Pour the icing over the peaks of the cake all around the ring, and allow it to set for 10 minutes.

Drink a shot of the remaining grappa in the kitchen before serving the cake with a bowl of the mascarpone on the side.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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