How to Make Italian Tea Cake

How to Make Italian Tea Cake
Ciambellone is an Italian tea cake that I was introduced to by my favorite food blogger, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.
This tea cake is lemony and plush, with a hardened glaze painted on while still hot from the oven. It tastes like a glazed lemon doughnut, which makes sense as the translation of ciambellone is "doughnut."

This Italian tea cake is most commonly served in the morning but is just as good as a dessert with whipped cream and berries as it is as a snack throughout the day. Traditionally made in a Bundt or ring-shaped pan, this Italian tea cake uses vanilla and freshly grated lemon and orange zest to flavor a soft and moist yellow cake. The glaze and sugar coating creates a crust that is tempting to pick off bit by bit as you walk by.

How to Make Italian Tea Cake

The ciambellone was easy enough to make, using just one large bowl for the cake and one small bowl for the glaze.
The only issue I ran into was finding the mascarpone cheese called for in the original recipe. Mascarpone can be tricky to find if you don’t have access to higher-end stores. It is also on the pricier side.
Luckily, there are many substitutions. I used room-temperature cream cheese, and I don’t think the cake suffered for it. If you have access to mascarpone cheese, I say use it in the recipe. For anyone else living in the sticks or looking for a cheaper option, the cream cheese was just fine.
Once you have your ingredients sorted, the cake comes together fairly quickly. You begin by coating your pan well with nonstick spray and sugar, pouring out any excess. Next, zest your lemon and orange. Remember to only get the rind and not the white pith.
Combine sugar, salt, and zest in a large bowl, and rub the zest into the sugar-salt combination with your fingers. This releases the oils to get maximum flavor. Then add your liquid ingredients, oil, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla. The recipe calls for plain yogurt, but I only had Greek. Perelman suggests replacing a tablespoon of yogurt with water to make up for the thickness of Greek yogurt if that is what you have.
Once your liquid ingredients are combined into a smooth batter, sprinkle baking powder on top and whisk until combined. Finally, add your flour to the batter, mixing just until the flour is fully incorporated so as not to toughen up the gluten.
Pour or drop your batter into the prepared pan, and spread evenly. Then drop the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Perelman bakes her cake for 40 minutes, but mine took closer to 60. Set your timer for 40 and keep an eye on it. I had to give it a tinfoil hat after 40 minutes of baking, as the top was done before the middle. The cake is fully cooked when a tester comes out batter-free, some crumbs are ok.
While your tea cake cooks, whip up the glaze by combining lemon juice, confectioner sugar, and corn syrup. Let the cake cool for just five minutes, then remove it from the pan (I know, I know, it shouldn’t fall apart on you if you used oil and a good coating of sugar.) I successfully removed the cake from the Bundt pan by placing a large plate on top of the Bundt pan and flipping it using potholders. Mine slid right out in one piece and there was dancing, so I have faith you can do it, too.

Tea Pairings

I enjoy this cake with a pot of Evening in the Garden, a gentle blend of rose, elderflower, and lemon. It’s an herbal tea, so it is caffeine-free, making it a good choice for an evening indulgence. If you need the caffeine, brew up a pot of Royal Wedding tea, a combination of lemon and elderflower. Plum Deluxe also carries a lemon ginger green tea, Full Body Reset that would pair nicely.

Tea Cake for All

Teacakes vary so much across the globe. On the blog, we have recipes for English tea cakes and Irish apple tea cake, We have also whipped up an earl grey honey lavender tea cake and cookie butter tea cake. Try them out, and pick your favorite tea time treat.

Italian Tea Cake Recipe

Ingredients for Cake:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Zest of half an orange
  • 1 and 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons of a neutral oil (such as vegetable oil)
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup of mascarpone or cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
Ingredients for Glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Scant 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • About 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat bundt or tube cake pan with cooking spray and coat generously with sugar. Pour out any excess from the pan.
Mix sugar and salt in a large bowl. Using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar-salt mixture.
Whisk in oil, cheese, yogurt then eggs and vanilla until the batter is smooth.
Sprinkle baking powder over the batter and thoroughly combine.
Add sifted flour into the batter and stir just until combined.
Drop or pour batter into your prepared pan, then smooth the top. Drop the pan onto the counter a few times to release air bubbles.
Bake 40-60 minutes, adding foil to the top if the top is cooking faster than the center.
The cake is done when the tester comes out with no wet batter on it, crumbs are ok.
While the cake bakes, mix your glaze in a small bowl.
Whisk sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice together until smooth. Only add the last tablespoon of lemon juice if needed. You want your glaze to be a thick consistency so it sticks to the side of the hot cake.
When the cake is done, let it rest for five minutes.
Then remove the cake from the pan.
Brush glaze over top and sides of the hot cake using all of the glaze.
The glaze will set as cake cools.
Keep cake covered at room temperature for 4-5 days.

Mary Hadzimichalis

Mary is a creative kitchen and garden witch with a passion for tea. She lives on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland with her husband and three cats. Her baking, creating, gardening, and women's healthcare advocacy can be followed on Instagram.
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