Being a region of Italy with a strong agricultural background, Umbrian cuisine is very simple. Take cakes for example. Traditional Umbrian cakes are mostly derived from bread. In the past people did not have ovens as they cooked over an open fireplace or simple woodstoves. Bread was cooked once a week in communal ovens owned by landlords. Bread was cooked at the beginning, when the oven was warmer. Cakes were made by adding eggs, sugar and some fat, for example olive oil or lard, to bread dough. They were then cooked when the regular bread was done and the oven was cooling off. Ciaramicola, a typical example of Umria peasant cake, is traditionally made in Perugia, Umbria’s capital city. Young women would make it for their fiancé as a gift for Easter. The cake is highly symbolic: an immaculate meringue hides a red-hot heart. The startling red is obtained with a splash of a liqueur named alkermens or alchermes. Alchermes is now commercially available, but in older times it was prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, rose water, vanilla and red food coloring. 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 a few drops of red food coloring or some raspberry juice.
Get the Umbrian Love Cake Recipe!