the whole triangle


Even a tiny triangle of lemon embellishing a drink was enough to make my grandpa shudder and suck his breath. Vincenzo’s grandfather on the other hand ate a lemon a day, skin, pith and flesh all. Now to be fair, there was a continent of difference between the two lemons. Between the heavily waxed, leather-skinned, shockingly sharp ones my grandpa might have found a triangle of in his drink in an Northern English pub in 1980 (my other granny had one such pub and I was a deft hand at slicing lemons and pulling pints by the age of 8) and the pale, fragrant, almost sweet lemons Vincenzo’s grandfather grew on his farm in Sicily.

That said, I still like the (unfair) comparison between the two; John Roddy grimacing at the sight of a small yellow triangle in a pub near Sheffield, Orazio D’Aleo eating the whole fruit in a field in southern Sicily. Apart from the citrus difference and the language, we think our Lancastrian and Sicilian grandfathers would have got on well, in an awkward, silent way.


Lemons are important in this house, Vincenzo doesn’t eat them whole, but almost. He squeezes them in and on the obvious: fish, salad, vegetables, tea, and the less obvious; strawberries, watermelon, bread, potatoes, espresso. He also washes the dishes with the squeezed out halves. Although less exuberant with my squeezing and still trying to get in the washing up-habit, I am – and this is might sound like pseuds corner – devoted to Italian lemons, delighted by their pale, unwaxed skins and oily spritz, gentle pith that’s as thick as a thumb and flesh that tastes clean and citric.

Rainy days and the fact everyone has been under the weather has made the bowl of lemons even more imperative, and not just for their suggestion of sunshine. Lemons have been lifting, cutting, sharpening, encouraging and brightening. They’ve been squeezed with blood oranges to make juice the colour of a desert sunrise, spritzed on greens, fat fringed pork chops and into my eyes, twisted into dressing for salad and vegetables and then – for the third time this week – grated into batter for a cake.


I’ve written about this cake before and I’m sure I will again. It’a actually the only cake I can make with any sort of ease, which has much to do with the inclusion of olive oil which renders everything, including cake batter, sleeker and more effortless. I think I could make it blindfolded, although it’s probably best I don’t try. Three cups of flour, one of olive oil, one and a half of sugar, another of yogurt, some baking powder and the zest of two lemons (which also clears your sinuses and lifts your spirits, although not as effectively as a gin and tonic with a curl of lemon peel) all whisked (energetically) together into a pale, creamy batter which you bake in ring-tin until firm and golden.

Simple and good, an everyday cake with a dose of mood lifting citrus. An accomadating cake that is as comfortable on a breakfast table as it is wrapped in a paper napkin and stuffed in a pocket for a morning snack, as good beside a cup of tea at about 4 as it is with a beaker of hot milk (with a nip) at about 9. I think both grandfathers would have approved. Serve in wedges or eat the whole thing, it is entirely up to you.


Ciambellone al limone – lemon ring cake

You need a ring-tin. I used a 100 ml glass as my measuring cup which worked well. Many people use a small yogurt pot (100-125 ml) as the measuring cup, which works well too. This is a small cake, which I’m sure many of you may like to double, which means adjusting cooking times accordingly. I have not tried this yet, so would appreciate feedback from anyone who does. Update from my friend Elizabeth – my cup, or a small yogurt pot (100 – 125ml) is a half US cup. The cake can also be baked in a loaf tin, small loaf tins or doubled to fill a bundt tin.

  • 3 cups of 00 or plain flour
  • a cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • a cup and a half of sugar
  • a cup of plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 3 large eggs
  • a heaped teaspoon of baking power or half a packet of Italian lievito
  • the zest of 2 unwaxed lemons

Set the oven to 180°

Whisk together the flour, olive oil, sugar, yogurt, eggs and baking powder in a large bowl. Grate over the lemon zest and whisk again (vigorously.) Pour the batter into a greased and floured ring tin and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until the cake is golden and cooked through (I test with a stand of spaghetti). Allow to cool before turning onto a plate.




Filed under cakes and baking, fruit, lemons, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, winter recipes

65 responses to “the whole triangle

  1. SarahJ

    Sounds fantastic, I can’t wait to try this! And I think you have answered one of my baking conundrums … How much baking powder to substitute for ‘una bustina di lievito’ – 2 heaped teaspoons I assume? Thanks so much for all your lovely recipes and beautiful, evocative prose.

    • Julie

      So when you say to use a 100ml glass as your cup, then 3 cups of flour would actually be 300 ml of flour, right? (250 ml equals one cup on my measuring cup)… 100 ml of yogurt etc..? Not

      • rachel

        Yes, 3 cups of my 100ml glass is 300 ml which is more or less 300 g. This is a more or less cake, strange for me someone who otherwise weighs. Add to this 100 ml of yogurt, 100 ml of oil and 150 g of sugar and 3 eggs and the baking agent an zest. If your cup was slightly bigger say 125 ml, it wouldn’t matter as it’s all about proportions. Hope this helps. -R

    • rachel

      It is – so if you double the quantity, use a whole packet. Glad you enjoy reading and thank you – R

  2. Christine

    Can’t wait to make this. Just want to clarify on the yogurt- is the yogurt you’re using the typical European yogurt, thin and almost liquid-like? Or are you using a thicker “Greek” type yogurt? Thanks in advance, and gorgeous photos, as always.

  3. You read my mind, and then you express it better. This morning was hot lemon-and-honey for sick flatmate, this afternoon Green&Blacks Lemon Drizzle Cake with chocolate chunks. And I have distinct memories of my Latin teacher plucking a lemon from an Amalfi tree and eating it like an apple.

    I do like imagining the grandfathers on a park bench together, not really chatting but enjoying each other’s company.

    Have a lovely week!

    • rachel

      Thanks F and about that drizzle cake? Come to think of it a drizzle of icing sugar and lemon juice glaze would work well here I think. I hope you have a good week too – Rx

  4. This sounds fragrant and lovely. Once you posted your Ciambella, I started looking for a savarin pan, which, believe it or not, was not easy to find in New York City. But I recently found one – the ONLY one – hiding all alone among the baking pans at Zabar’s, and I scooped it up immediately. So I can make this cake in the correct shape. Yay. xoxo

    • rachel

      I hope you do and let me know about measurements….apparently my small cup is a half US cup (this is the reason I love scales, I am terrible with cup adjustments) Have a good week, hopefully with some sunshine (a glimpse at least) – RX

  5. a spaghetti tester! of course!! i recently stumbled upon a very narrow knitting needle, as my cake tester of choice, after years of defacing cakes with (multiple) jabs of (large) teenage-gawky table knives. but my sweaters would no doubt prefer the disposable diameter of a long noodle.

    brilliant. just like you.

    • rachel

      I’m not sure who taught be about the spaghetti, it is ideal though, for poking cakes. I am wondering if you still have snow (we have rain), I could of course come over Rox

  6. Nadia

    Love the grandfather comparison (and the writing, as always). I have friends who eat whole lemons, my mother too! RE: the lemon cake recipe, I have made citrus cakes with olive oil a few times before and personally found them rather too heavy for my tastes, even though I’ve consumed olive oil since earliest childhood and can’t live without it. I find corn oil much lighter for cakes.

    • rachel

      Thanks Nadia and I admire your mum. After years of cake made with butter, OIive oil ones seem light and bouncy in comparison…It’s all relative I suppose – R

  7. Just yesterday Sophie was craving this ciambellone al limone but couldn’t find a recipe that was easy enough to make. All of them included whipping butter which she just didn’t want to do.I love the idea of using oil instead. I’ll make this today and surprise her with it. I’ve still got a ton of lemons from Ravello to work through, so this is perfect.

  8. Oh yes. Wonderful lemons. As a child, my father had a further use for them that you may not have considered. He would get himself into full view of the town brass band, puffing mightly away on their tubas and cornets, casually peel a lemon and eat it, slowly, in front of them… with predictable results.

  9. Ha ha I love Margaret’s fathers use of the lemon! But lemon in espresso? Has Vincenzo gone too far? What’s it like? I am intrigued but I don’t think I am brave enough to try it without more information and persuasion.

    • rachel

      The lemon in the espresso is only occasionally and it is a curl of rind, like a cocktail, apparently it cures headaches (says vincenzo)…R

  10. christin

    cant wait to0 make the cake rachel ! wwhen is the book due out ? enjoy- spring is on the way- we have daffodils ! christin

    • rachel

      We can feel spring here…..then it rains…then it try agin…yes I can’t wait for sunny days. The book is out next summer (ages, even though time is flying) R

  11. Another lovely post. Now I want a cake ring tin. I’ve been meaning to write and thank you for your very delightful blog. I enjoy your way with words and I’ll be pleased to buy a copy of your book when its out. Well done for persevering with that and letting us follow your life in Testaccio. I stayed there in a friends apartment (she’s Roman/American) on Luigi Vanvitelli in 2009 looking after her cats. It was such a vivid time, like living in an ante-room in a big house where there was a party going on 24/7. Can’t imagine what it must be like now with the market gone. I’d love to get back there someday. I’ve blogged about the courgette flowers i didn’t buy there, you might enjoy this

  12. I do the washing up thing too! I’m fascinated by Meyer lemons which seen to be de rigeur in the US but completely impossible to find here – apparently make great curd!

    • rachel

      Arn’t Meyers lemons crossed with mandarins or something and yes they do sound wonderful and mild (rather like good Italian lemons maybe) hope you have some sun this week – RX

      • I believe they are. Waitrose sell Italian lemons which I buy when they’re on special offer but not Meyer ones. Perhaps I should start importing them….. No sun as yet and more rain and wind forecast! Boo x

  13. I just made (almost this exact) cake today! I am obsessed with it — so easy, so good. Lemons are divine.

  14. I’ve been in a strange mood lately, not really interested in cooking. Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of it all.

  15. Fed up with the rain too … so your lemony post was even more of a pleasure to read. it made me think of the prank my mother used to get up to as a child of around 10 (I presume). She and friends would start munching on lemon wedges in front of the brass band playing, pursing and smacking their lips, in the hope that the poor players would have trouble carrying on playing. Can you imagine how much more saliva they produced goaded on by these pesky kids!!!

  16. laura

    Particularly wonderful and poetic post! Thank you. I make a cake similar to this and, yes, it is always successful. I call it a yogurt cake and use yogurt (just regular, not Greek yogurt) containers (small ones) as measures for the flour, sugar and oil. I’ve always used citrus-flavored yogurt (the Tuscan Mukki brand) but love the idea of lemon zest (it does add so much to so many things).

    • rachel

      I will try the lemon yogurt too (i love a lemon yogurt and once ate 4 in a row – I was 8, about the same age as cutting lemons in the pub) hope you are well Rx

  17. Any thoughts on making this in a regular tin? Round or loaf. Sounds divine!

  18. I made the recipe yesterday and baked in in 4 mini loaf pans, which turned out perfectly. FYI in terms of measurements your 100ml is a 1/2 cup American. When Sophie and Emma were younger I remember a lot of moms making a version of this cake using a small yogurt cup as the measuring cup, which makes it very easy!

  19. Rachel this is beautiful in so many ways. I was feeling nervous about coming back to writing in my blog but I spent the day yesterday reading so many of your posts and I finally worked up the courage to get back in there. It’s hard to understand what gets in the way sometimes but posts like these remind me that this is how I see the world around me and if I can say it the way you say it some day… well, I’ll keep trying. xm

  20. Rach – this is a lovely recipe – is this based on the same cake we love at the bakery in Testaccio? x s

  21. There you go again, Rachel. This non-cooking, non-foodie is thinking of baking! Damn you (or bless you), depending on how it comes out (burnt or undercooked are distinct possibilities). Will keep you posted. xxo. I love your writing.

  22. Oh this is a perfect cake, and I have been yearning for cake lately, and now I want to wash my dishes with lemon too! c

    • rachel

      It is a good cake, not least as it is so beautifully easy. The dishes – yes yes, Vincenzo is devoted, I on the other hand infuriate him by throwing away his washing halves. Hope you are well? – RX

  23. Lauren

    The reason for using lemons here is slightly different for me, it’s so hot that they are falling off the tree and I don’t like to waste them. I love a cake that uses one measuring cup and one bowl, as I enthuastically bake my cleaning up skills slightly lack.

    My variations were my cup was 125ml (1/2 AUS cup), reasonably thick greek yogurt (because that was what was in the fridge) I used a loaf tin increasing the bake time to about 40 mins still at 180 degrees C.

    We loved this cake and with a never ending supply of lemons it is definitely in the rotation.

    • rachel

      I would love a lemon tree – I know that comes with responsibility though…and lemons lots. Thanks so much for the measurements, it is always great to know what works for others xox

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  25. Karl

    Thanks for this lovely recipe!. Tastes just like the simple delicious cakes that my Italian aunts would make for afternoon tea. So easy to make and it stays fresh even on the second day. I made mine in a round cake tin which meant that I had to bake it longer.

    • rachel

      Hi Karl and glad to know it works in a round tin too….and yes, good too the day after, and the day after that if you cover it (if it lasts that long) -R

  26. I’ve been meaning to write this comment sooner.. I’m happy I get to hear about Vincenzo and the family. i feel the burst of yellow reading through these lines. much love and warmth xo

  27. Anna Warburton

    Hello Rachel! I have made this cake 3 times in the last 10 days. It’s delish.
    It’s perfect for after school with a cuppa. Or for breakfast with tea or all day actually – every time I go into the kitchen another slice is being wolfed down. It’s such a simple cake to make. LOVE IT. Also, on another note made your roast chicken again…..bloody marvelous!!! Anna Warbs xxx

    • rachel

      Anna – I am so happy i could hop, I will be round for a cup of tea and a slice in 10 minutes. Come and visit us in Rome, loads of love Rxox

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  29. Thanks so much for this, Rachel. I was talking to an Italian friend who said her grandmother makes a similar cake– always using the yogurt cup as the measure for the rest of the ingredients.

    I didn’t have any regular yogurt on hand, but the 2% fat greek yogurt held up just fine.

    • rachel

      Yes the yogurt pot measure – genius. So glad you made it, even happier that you liked it, see you really soon RXox

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