Religion and food are intrinsically connected to the Italian table. The lovely Ciaramicola provides urban legends and an unusual taste during the Easter celebration and beyond.

Image attribution Assisi News

Buongiorno amici:

Perugia's city is located in the Umbrian region's heart, about two hours north of Rome. In addition to remarkable architecture and Universities, the town is the second capital of the country for chocolate after Turin. Women especially know about Perugia because of the Baci chocolates, filled with toasted hazelnuts, wrapped in multilingual love notes, written in several languages. Since 1922 the Baci have saved relationships with chocolate romance. The city also hosts a European chocolate festival every year. Hundreds of chocolate producers line the quaint city street, providing free tastings and purchases to thousands of chocolate lovers.

But Perugia is not just chocolate, but also outstanding Umbrian cuisine and delectable sweets. One of them is the feature of this column. The name is Ciaramicola, served during the holy week of Easter. But let's not wait another six months to make it. If you have time and energy, the recipe below will enchant your palate while celebrating Easter earlier. In Perugia, Easter Sunday lunch ends with Ciaramicola, a soft leavened donut of a beautiful deep red color, covered with a white meringue and a shower of sugar sprinkles. Ciaramicola is a simple dessert obtained by mixing wheat flour, yeast, lard or butter, sugar, beaten eggs, and grated lemon zest. Ciaramicola is considered the Umbrian capital symbol in all the Perugian pastry shops alongside the brustengolo, a spiced bread made with honey and dried fruit.

What makes it uniquely beautiful and delicious is alchermes, the liqueur of Tuscan origin based on spices, cochineal, and rose water. Alcherms gives this dessert an intense shade between red and fuchsia, with a slightly bitter and pleasant aftertaste. In addition to alchermes, the Italian meringue plays an essential role in the recipe.

It is the final touch that transforms Ciaramicola from a ciambella (donut) into a small sculpture. In the past, before a wedding, the soon-to-be-bride would bake a Ciaramicola to offer to the future husband, wishing for a long and fruitful union, symbolized by the multitude of colorful confetti. The cake is highly symbolic: a perfect meringue hides a red-hot heart. Families from Perugia, Assisi, Gubbio, Spello, and other neighboring villages, begin preparing the cakes between Thursday and Good Friday. Its consumption extends to Easter and the following days. Sagrantino of Montefalco, an Umbrian passito with notes of vanilla and cinnamon, takes precedence in the wine department, with a good Vin Santo from Tuscany as a second option. It’s all on your taste preference.

It is sweet with distant origins.

Although there is no precise information regarding its origin, Ciaramicola is a dessert with a centuries-old history and already present in Perugia and neighboring villages in the 15th century. In Umbrian cuisine from the late Middle Ages, in 1431, evidences the chamberlain - the administrator of the city's assets - of Gubbio allocated money to offer citizens a specialty called Ciaramigola, on the occasion of the feast of Sant'Ubaldo on May 15. It is indeed the precursor of the current name.

Its appearance is also full of meaning: the meringue is distributed on the ciambella (donut) to form five 'hills' that symbolize the historic districts of Perugia - Porta Sole, Porta Sant'Angelo, Porta Susanna, Porta Eburnea, and Porta San Pietro - built in medieval times; at the center of the five reliefs there is a cross, which recalls Piazza IV Novembre, the most important in the city, with the Fontana Maggiore. The color of the cake has a meaning as well. The red of the alchermes and the white of the egg white recall the coat of arms of Perugia - a silver griffin on a scarlet shield. But above all, the bloodshed by Christ on the cross and the light of the Resurrection. The name of the cake has a reference to Easter's rebirth, perhaps an evolution of 'ciarapica,' a term from the Perugian dialect that indicates little birds cheering spring and summer days with song.

A note on alchermes

Ciambella made with alchermes

If you never used alchermes, you are in a company of thousands. Alkermes appeared in 1653 Culpeper's Complete Herbal and English Physician. Initially, it was defined as a powerful strengthener of the heart.

Ingredients such as Apple juice, rose-water, raw silk, ambergris, pearls, leaf gold, cinnamon, and two pounds of mysterious berries called Cherms or carmine were included the recipe.

Modern Alchermes is much different than the original and prepared with various spirits. The modern version comprises sugar, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, rose water, vanilla, and red food coloring. Of course, nobody drinks this concoction. And besides the color appeal, it is only used as an attractive floral aroma to cakes and pastries. It is also tough to find in the USA. However, you can still make Ciaramicola using Vin Santo or Marsala and the addition of some of the spices listed above. If you want a red color, then a little red coloring can be added.

{Image Attribution La Cucina Italiana}

Ciaramicola from Perugia


Four and 1/2 cups of cake flour

Two whole eggs

Two egg yolks

1/2 pounds of sugar

Six ounces of unsalted butter or lard( original ingredient)

Grated zest of one lemon

One teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

Three tablespoons of alkermes or dessert wine

Four tablespoons of whole milk

Four teaspoons of baking powder


Mix all the dry ingredients with butter, then add all liquid ingredients to a food processor. Transfer the mixture to a buttered Bundt pan and bake in a preheated oven at (375°F) until set, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the meringue, as explained in the recipe.

Remove the cake from the oven, switch off the heat, but keep the range warm it will help dry the meringue. Remove the Ciaramicola from the cake mold as soon as it is cool enough to handle.

For the Italian meringue topping:

Four ounces of granulated sugar

Two egg whites at room temperature

Two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine the ingredients in a cold metal bowl, and place over a saucepan filled with half of simmering water. Beat the egg whites with a manual whisk or electric mixer until soft peaks. Remove the bowl from the water holding pan and continue to beat until the meringue cools slightly. It would be best if you achieve a fluffy and firm consistency. Assembling the Ciaramicola is the fun part: Cover the cake with the meringue spreading it on the top and the sides uniformly and thick. Use all the prepared meringue in the bowl. Sprinkle the multicolored jimmies all around the top, and transfer to a warm oven to dry for 5 hours.

Enjoy the Ciaramicola with a glass of sweet wine like Sagrantino passito, Moscato, or Vin Santo.

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