Ciaramicola: Easter Lemon-Spice Cake for Lovers
Ciaramicola, a lemon spice cake, covered with meringue and topped with sprinkles, is a classic Easter cake from the Perugia province of Umbria. It is customary for a woman to give one to her lover or fiancé on Easter morning as a symbol of her affection.
The cake, with its red and white hues matching the city’s colors, was created as an homage to Perugia, and is an unofficial symbol of the city. It’s said that the cake’s colors represent features of Perugia. Red is for the Porta S. Angelo district, which is where firewood traditionally entered the city; white, for the Porta Sole district because of its many marble and travertine facades; blue, for the Porta Susanna district, which leads to the lovely blue Lake Trasimeno; green for the Porta Eburnea district, which leads toward the area’s pastoral mountains and vineyards; and yellow for Porta S. Pietro, the gateway to Perugia’s lush wheat fields.
The cake dough is seasoned with lemon and spicy Alchermes liqueur — which gives it a lovely red tinge — and shaped like a large ring, crossed in the center with two ropes of dough.
The etymology of the cake’s name is connected to ciarapica, a local dialect term for cinciallegra birds, the small multicolored creatures whose song announces the arrival of Umbrian spring.
On Sunday, April 25, 2010, Perugia joined the Guiness Book of world records for baking the world’s largest ciaramicola.
Here, instead of creating the typical crossed shape, the cake is simplified and baked as one unit.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a Bundt pan. Put the eggs, yolks and granulated sugar into a bowl and beat with an electric handheld mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the butter and beat until creamy. Beat in the baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest and lemon juice, liqueur and salt and beat until combined. Sift in the flour, a little at a time, combining with a wooden spoon or your fingers, until a thick batter forms. The batter will be dense and sticky.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and let rest for 30 minutes so it can rise and settle into the pan. Bake 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center section of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven. Slide a knife around the edges of the cake and carefully turn it out onto a baking sheet. Turn the heat off in the oven, but keep the oven door closed.
Just a few minutes before the cake is ready to come out of the oven, make the meringue topping. In a bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites and confectioners’ sugar until you get a very glossy, thick, dense meringue. Top the fully baked cake with the meringue, sprinkle with the sugar balls, and return to the warm oven until the glaze dries and sets, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and serve.
*If you can’t find Alchermes, substitute the following mixture: 1/4 cup white rum, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon orange blossom or rose water, a few drops of red food coloring, plus a pinch of each of the following spices: ground cinnamon, ground coriander, grated nutmeg or ground mace, ground cardamom, ground cloves, or ground star anise.