December is my favourite month of the year for a few reasons (in no particular order): the weather is just cold and snowy enough for cute wintery Insta moments, my birthday falls on the 7th, Christmas is around the corner and people are generally in a good mood because of it.
It’s also the official start to winter baking season and there’s no shortage of cookies, cakes, breads and other sweets making the rounds, many based on traditional family recipes. Call me old fashioned but while I’m all for trying something new, Christmas will always be a time for heritage recipes and tried and true treats to make an appearance, bringing back memories and keeping family traditions alive.
It’s that nostalgia that has me thinking about this citrusy sponge cake known as giambella (jam-bella) – every Italian nonna has a version of this cake, typically flavoured with lemon and orange or sometimes with raisins. It was a mainstay in my grandmother’s repertoire and I remember she always had one freshly baked whenever we visited throughout the year. I raided her recipe box on a recent trip home to get reacquainted and try making it myself for the first time – only to find the recipe in Italian, with no prep or baking instructions. So after a quick translation and a bit of improvisation (and two test bakes), I think the end result it pretty close to how I remember it.
It’s not exactly a holiday recipe, but this cake is perfect to have on hand when friends and family drop by.
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1 ¼ cup milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
- 3 cups flour
- zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
- 2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat oven to 375°F
- Grease a bundt pan lightly with softened butter and dust with flour, shaking out any excess
- Sift flour and baking powder in a medium bowl
- Combine oil and milk in a measuring cup
- Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar on high speed until the mixture thickens slightly and is a pale golden yellow, 3 – 4 minutes
- Mix in lemon and orange zest
- Add oil/milk, alternating with flour in three additions and mix until thoroughly combined
- Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and smooth with a rubber spatula
- Bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and set aside to cool completely, about 1 hour
- Dust with confectioners’ sugar using a fine sieve just before serving
- This cake can be kept for up to 1 week wrapped in plastic wrap. It also freezes incredibly well and can be stored frozen for up to 1 month.