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Italian anise cake a hit with family, friends for ages

Cooking and baking remain ways to connect with those AnnMarie Scinicariello loves most.

Using recipes from family members — such as Italian Anise Cake — brings back memories of good times and great food. That recipe came from her mother, Angie Bongiovi, and had been passed down through the family of her mother’s maid of honor, or “comata” in Italian. It was a big deal in the family.

“I remember eating this cake on the weekends,” said Scinicariello, who lives in Dickson City with her husband, Joe. “My mother was always baking, especially on the weekends. In case you got company, you had to have something ready, which happened a lot then.”

While Scinicariello didn’t need to cook while living at home, when she started her own family — which includes three children, Vicki, Tina and Henry Minello — Scinicariello began to learn her mother’s recipes. This included the one for Italian Anise Cake — sometimes known as Chumbalone, Chombolini or Ciambella, depending on the region of Italy it came from — which has been a hit with family and friends for as long as she can remember.

“It’s a very versatile cake,” Scinicariello said. “It doesn’t have to be a special time of year to eat it. You can eat it for breakfast. My brother made me laugh the other day. We were talking about the cake and he said, ‘The best part is after a couple days when it gets hard or a little dry, you put it in the toaster. It makes delicious toast.’ You can really do a lot with it.”

This cake is just as delicious as it is cherished, and that’s why the cake earned Scinicariello a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore.

Scinicariello described the recipe as super simple, noting that cooks can prepare it in one bowl. Since Scinicariello is diabetic, she never adds an icing to the cake, but she said it doesn’t really need any more sweetness.

“It’s really light,” she said. “None of the flavors are overpowering, and it’s not too sweet. It’s just a really nice, light cake.”

Local Flavor couldn’t agree more. The cake’s moist, fluffy texture paired perfectly with the tastes of signature anise and cool, tart lemon.

It came as no surprise since Scinicariello is a master in the kitchen. She typically does all the holiday cooking and also creates homemade raviolis and gnocchi as well as eggplant Parmesan and braciole. On the baking side, she makes banana breads and lots of different kinds of pies, cakes and cookies, including Italian specialities such as anise or pepper cookies and pizzelles.

As her children grew up, she made up cookbooks for them filled with their favorite recipes. To date, she’s crafted more than 100 cookbooks and given them away to friends and family.

“I really enjoy cooking,” she said, pointing out how she now she loves to make dishes for her five grandchildren. “After all, cooking is in my blood.”

When Scinicariello was a child, her father died and her family moved in with her grandfather, “Pop Cardone,” who always made homemade spaghetti for special occasions as well as polenta and influenced Scinicariello’s interest in cooking. Scinicariello’s mother, meanwhile, was a baker for Roosevelt Junior High School for 24 years and made cookies, cakes, brownies and more for the students.

And Scinicariello’s brother, Joe, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and makes everything from wedding cakes and Italian cannoli to pies, cookies and more.

“I get all my good tips from him,” Scinicariello said, laughing.

Scinicariello’s husband emigrated from Italy to the United States at 15 and started to work at a bakery, and she said he still makes the most delicious homemade bread she’s ever had. The two often cook and bake together.

“It’s part of that Italian upbringing,” she said.

Today, Scinicariello has more time to dedicate to being in the kitchen. Prior to retirement, Scinicariello was a hairdresser and salon owner for 33 years who also made dinners for her family. While she always made time to do it, it’s a favorite pastime now. For the last 12 years, Scinicariello has chaired the sweet treats stand at the Dickson City Days annual summer picnic.

“I truly enjoy baking and cooking. It’s not a chore if you enjoy it,” she said. “It’s relaxing to me.”

Annmarie Scinicariello’s Italian Anise Cake

2 cups sugar

5 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

5 teaspoons baking powder

5 cups flour

2 cups milk

1 1/2 ounces anise flavor

2 tablespoons lemon zest

Juice of one lemon

1 tablespoon anise seeds

Directions: In a bowl, mix all ingredients well. Spray two 9-inch tube pans. Bake at 350 F for 50 minutes until golden on top. Let cool and remove from pan.

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