Brownie Ciambellone

In exactly 7,200 minutes, or 120 hours -- or, more to the point, exactly 5 days -- I will turn 30 years old, and thus officially leave my twenties, a decade which has, all things considered, been quite important for me. After all, they've covered everything from my days as a college student to a magnificent year abroad in Bologna to a spur of the moment nose piercing and a dose of dark hair dye; they were the years in which I first experienced falling in love, a subsequent broken heart, and true loss. In my twenties I moved to Rome, experienced living on my own for the first time without my twin sister, started working -- first as an English teacher, then as a program assistant, and now at the UN -- and also launched this blog. In short, a whole lot has happened in the past 10 years, and all of it has been formative, meaningful, crucial to my personal growth and development. When I think of who I am at 29 compared to who I was at 20, the change I see is immense; I feel like two completely different people. 

So: 30 years old! Frankly speaking, I can't exactly say that I've been been looking forward to the 27th of January -- 30 is a weighty age, at least for me (note that the jury is still out on this, however: when I told my 92 year old grandmother my thoughts on my upcoming birthday, she laughed in my face). While in Italy being 30 means you're still a ragazzina, or a kid, it most certainly has a far different weight in the United States (ahh, cultural differences!) In my home country, reaching 30 comes with a whole series of checklists. By the time you start your third decade of life, you should have have completed a masters degree and have already embarked on a promising career; you should be married, with a house and a mortgage to boot, and extra points if you already have your first (or even second!) kid. In short, it is a tall order, but one that I see many of my friends back home completing -- social media makes sure to let me know this -- which leaves me feeling a bit perplexed, something along the lines of: wait wait wait! you're engaged?! you've bought a house?! since when?! should I be worried?! should I be doing that too?! etc, etc. 

A year ago on my last birthday, when I turned 29, I was rather reflective, a bit hesitant about approaching 30. While it's true that I still feel a bit unsure about entering this new phase, and unsteady with the knowledge that I'm not exactly following the path of my peers back home, I find that my perspective has changed. Sure, I may not be married with a house with a white picket fence, but I have my own share of things to be excited and proud of: at 30, I've managed to create a life for myself from scratch in the capital city of a foreign country, and make it my second home, not at all a small feat; I speak Italian with a fluency my 20 year old self would have never imagined; I have a group of spectacular friends here who make life all the more beautiful and fun and rewarding; I have this blog, a passion project that I love to bits and that keeps my creative juices flowing; I translated a book; this year I'm moving in to a new apartment soon, am planning trips to Lake Como, Sicily, and Portugal, and have a whole lot of goals and projects for the new year. Simply put, I've realized with some reflection that I have accomplished just as much as perhaps the "typical" American my age, with those accomplishments being not less or more, or better or worse, but just different, and still wonderful. As I go in to this new stage of life, I'm feeling optimistic, fortunate, excited to see what not only the new year brings (the upside to a January birthday!) but also who I'll meet, what I'll learn, what else I will achieve, and who I'll become in the next ten years. Lots to think about, no?!

Okay! Sentimental bit of this post closed now, promise.

The recipe! Ladies and gentleman, in honor of my fast approaching birthday, I give you cake, this Brownie Ciambellone, one of my very favorite sweets that makes frequent appearances in my kitchen. First things first: a ciambellone is a common treat in all of Italy, a plain, simple ring shaped cake usually eaten at breakfast or as a snack. Most all Italians have a recipe for ciambellone, and this is mine, one that, in true Italo-American style, crosses this traditional Italian cake with the American brownie. On the brownie side, it's rich and fudge-y and intensely chocolate-y -- melted chocolate, a dash of cocoa powder, and a generous amount of chocolate chips ensure this -- but still simple, humble, versatile like any good ciambellone should be, as at home with a cup of coffee as a typical sweet Italian breakfast as it is as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea. It comes together in a snap -- no softening or beating of butter, no frosting or layers here -- and it's a lovely cake that wears many hats, one whose functions include, but are not limited to: 30th birthdays, birthdays in general, middle of the week cake cravings, sudden chocolate cravings, extra special breakfasts, a simple dessert with a dusting of powdered sugar, a sweet way to say I love you/I'm sorry/Congratulations/just-because-I-wanted-to-make-a-cake/TGIF, etc etc. Whatever your reasoning may be, I do recommend you start 2019 off right and make this cake. ASAP. Really.

A couple of notes: You can also make this cake with white chocolate instead of semisweet and leave out the cocoa powder and chocolate chips, if you want to take it in a completely different direction; if you make the white chocolate version and add raspberries or blueberries, you won't regret it. I have never baked this in a muffin pan to make individual cakes, but I think you most certainly could. Don't leave out the sprinkling of mini chocolate chips on the top -- it really adds something special to the cake.

Looking for more chocolate cake recipes? I have this 1940s Wacky Chocolate Cake, this Wellesley Fudge Cake, this Chocolate Fudge Souffle Cake, these Chocolate Lava Cakes, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, this Torta Caprese and this German Chocolate Cake. Looking for more brownie-esque recipes? I have these Brownie Cookies, this Brownie Pie, these Fudge Brownies, and these Dulce de leche brownies. For more ciambelloni: this Lemon Ricotta Cake, this White Chocolate Blueberry Cake, and this Apple Cake


10.5 ounces (300 grams) semi sweet chocolate, chopped
7 ounces (200 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) flour
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons, 35 grams) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (175 grams) mini chocolate chips

Powdered sugar for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 325F/160C. Grease a bundt pan with some butter and set aside. 
Place chocolate, butter, milk, and sugar in a bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bowl, and stir occasionally. You can also just do this on a pan on the stove (that’s what I usually do) as long as you’re careful the chocolate doesn’t burn. Remove the pan from the heat when chocolate and butter have melted, and stir mixture until completely smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Allow mixture to cool at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Add the vanilla and eggs to chocolate mixture and whisk until well combined. In a large bowl mix together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Add one cup of the flour mixture to the chocolate and stir until a smooth paste forms. Repeat with another cup of the chocolate mixture. Add remaining chocolate mixture and stir until mixture is smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 45 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean without any batter. If the cake is browning too much while baking, cover it loosely with aluminum foil. Allow cake to cool on a wire rack to room temperature before turning it out of the pan. Serves 10-14, depending on how big the slices are.


  1. I went through a bit of a quarter life crisis in my mid-twenties, fearing I hadn’t found my life partner, wasn’t on track for all those things you mentioned. But then I realized I want a long and exciting life and to have everything checked off by an arbitrary age was silly. Like you, I did a ton in my twenties- so many things to be proud of! I’m a few years older than you and follow your IG and blog bc while I lived in Italy a few times I’m still jealous of the life you’re living as I’ve married and just had my second and final baby. Our goal is to move to Italia in the future though and that’s what keeps life exciting. Grass is always greener and always best to have all the adventures while you can! Also, this recipe looks divine! Cheers and happy birthday from a followe!

  2. Dear anonymous, thank you so much for leaving this comment -- it is spot on and very reassuring! Very glad to know that I am not the only one who has experienced the leaving-my-20s-crisis. If you ever move to Rome or Italy in general, please let me know! And do give this recipe a try!! xoxo