Desserts · Recipes · Spring

Ciaramicola, an Umbrian Easter cake

CIARAMICOLA. I love this cake because it’s beautiful and so reminiscent of ancient times.

Ciaramicola is a traditional cake from Perugia, Umbria’s capital city. In a past when things were simple, young women made it for their fiancé as a gift for Easter. The cake is highly symbolic: an immaculate meringue hides a red-hot heart.

As most Umbrian cakes, the inside was based on bread dough sweetened and softened with eggs and lard. The startling red is obtained with a splash of a liqueur named alkermens or alchermes.

And here is the part I like the best. An 8th century cordial named confectio alkermes  is reported in 1653 Culpeper‘s Complete Herbal and English Physician. Defined as a mighty strengthener of the heart, its recipe includes apple juice, rose-water, raw silk, ambergris, pearls, leaf gold, cinnamon and two pounds of mysterious berries of Cherms, possibly carmine. How fitting to love promises as well as to Umbria’ s fierce medieval history!

Modern  Alchermes is more boringly prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, rose-water, vanilla and red food coloring. Nobody drinks it. In fact, besides the color effect, it’s generally only used to impart an interesting floral aroma to cakes and pastries. If you can’t find it, just substitute with a sweet wine like Vin Santo or Marsala, a pinch each of the above spices and substitute the milk with red fruit juice (e.g. cranberry or pomegranate).


I make the dough as a cake, not as a sweet bread:

  • 450 gr. ( 4 and 1/2 cups) cake flour or Italian 00
  • 1  egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 140 gr (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 210 gr (7.5 oz.) butter
  • grated zest of one lemon or orange
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoon alkermes or dessert wine and 2 tab orange liqueur
  • 4-6 tablespoon milk
  • 24 gr (3 tabspoon) baking powder

Using a food processor, mix first dry ingredients with butter, then add eggs and liqueur or wine. Add enough milk to obtain a firm but spreadable batter. Transfer the batter in a buttered Bundt pan and bake in preheated oven at 180° C (375°F) until set, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, make the meringue as explained below. Remove the cake from the oven,   but keep the oven warm as you will need it to dry the meringue. Remove the cake from the cake mold as soon as it is cool enough to handle.

for the meringue topping:

  • 110 gr. (4 oz)  sugar
  • 2 egg whites at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • small confetti of your choice

To make a classic Italian meringue, combine the ingredients in a metal bowl. Place over a saucepan of gently simmering water and beat with an electric mixer until very thick, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the bowl from heat and beat off the heat until light and fluffy.

Assemble the ciaramicola:

Cover the cake above and around the sides with a thick layer of meringue. Sprinkle with multicolor confetti if you like. Transfer the cake in the oven, switch off the heat, leave to dry for 30 min to one hour. The merengue must be completely dry and crunchy. Bring to room temperature Enjoy with a glass of sweet wine like Sagrantino passito, Moscato or Vin Santo.

ciaramicola Umbrian Easter cake



17 thoughts on “Ciaramicola, an Umbrian Easter cake

  1. I just bought the ingredients to make my own alchermes. I adore alchemy– and the red color comes from tiny little “cochineal” bugs that grow in cactus and where used to die things red.

    I can’t wait!


  2. I love the idea of a “mighty strengthener of the heart”! But alas, I probably won’t find alchermes in Ottawa — perhaps I’ll try with vin santo and a splash of food colouring!


  3. The cake looks delicious and the metaphor makes me heart skip a beat! I may have to make this for my boyfriend for our upcoming anniversary.


  4. I just finished making my first batch of Alkermes and can’t wait to make this cake (which I remember from my visits to Italy) and also a Zuppa Inglese. I look forward to signing up for your blog – having troubles getting it to go through this morning but will keep at it!


  5. Hello,
    I am happy to find your blog! I love hearing about your life in Italy and look forward to trying your recipes. I have recently started a wheat free diet and would love to collect the recipes which you have found successful, especially for pasta and cake/biscotti alternatives. Are you an Italian native? I look forward to visiting Italy, some time again in the future. Maybe I can look forward to finding your inn.


    1. Amelia, if you go back to Italy, you must stay at Madonna del Piatto! You will adore Letizia, her family and Assisi! We booked a cooking school weekend and we’re very pleased. It was a perfect start to a perfect vacation.


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