Casatiello – Neapolitan Easter Bread #BreadBakers

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Casatiello may be a traditional Neapolitan Easter bread, but as with many traditions, if you ask 10 different Italians for their take on it, you're sure to get 10 different answers.  The constants are these: Casatiello is rustic savory bread, loaded with cheeses and cured meats (salumi). And there it ends. The cheeses and meats you choose are up for grabs—from favorites that your family has loved down the generations to whatever you have in the fridge (and actually, one school of thought has it that Casatiello was just that—a way to use up Easter leftovers). Then there's the shape—a classic ring shape, said to reference Christ's crown of thorns, or a large roundish loaf. Eggs? Often tucked on top under crosses of dough, but also without. And then it's eaten on Easter. Except when it's eaten on the following day, Easter Monday or La Pasquetta, when friends and family head to the countryside for a celebratory picnic. Whatever, I say, if the old traditions aren't your thing, just make up new ones. One thing I know for sure though, Easter Schmeaster. This bread is too bleeping good to eat just once a year.

It's hard to imagine that a bread that's positively loaded with cheese and meat could be anything but a brick, but this is the lightest, fluffiest bread I've ever eaten. Seriously, once baked, when I took it out of the oven it felt like I was picking up a hunk of styrofoam, it was so surprisingly light. Rich, golden, buttery and brioche-like, with salty bits of salami and glossy pockets of melted cheese, it was truly a revelation.

As I mentioned, there are as many variations on Casatiello as there are Italians and after checking out about a dozen recipes, the one that got my attention was from The Italian Baker, by the late Carol Field, arguably America's foremost authority on Italian baking. Hers differed from some of the others in shape (round loaf) and incorporation of the cheese and meat. In the ring version of this bread, the dough is rolled out, topped with the cheeses and meat, then rolled up and formed into a circle, and you could certainly do that here, although the dough is a bit soft. Here though, three of the four cheeses are grated and mixed into the dough. The remaining cheese and meat are folded and kneaded in. The dough is very soft and silky, especially before the first rise, not unexpected for a dough with 4 egg yolks, 4 whole eggs and a boatload of butter, but it's not difficult to work with (unlike brioche, this doesn't get a cold rise to firm it up). 

One note about the color. It's definitely way darker than other recipes I looked at, but it is indeed supposed to be this dark, at least according to the photo in Carol's book. Unfortunately, my crust may be a tad too thick and overbaked, thanks to an oven that's on life support. The temperature has been fluctuating wildly and there's a 75° difference between the two thermometers I've been using, so getting the heat just right is a real crap shoot.  Thick crust or not, the crumb, flavor and aroma of this bread are so incredible that it doesn't matter. 

Italian breads are the theme for this month's #BreadBakers challenge, hosted by Anshie over at Spice Roots. Be sure to check out the links below because you don't want to miss what this talented group came up with. Thanks, Anshie!

Casatiello – Neapolitan Easter Bread

Ingredients

Sponge

  • 12g (4 ½ tsps) active dry yeast
  • 20g (4 tsps) sugar
  • 300g (1 ¼ cups) warm water
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 300g (about 2 ½ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 6.5g (1 ¼ tsps) salt

Dough

  • 4 large eggs
  • 120g (½ cup, plus 1 ½ tbsp) sugar
  • 6.5g (1 ⅓ tsps) salt
  • 550g (About 4 ¼ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 250g (2 sticks, plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 60g (2 oz) pecorino romano cheese, grated*
  • 60g (2 oz) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated*
  • 30g (1 oz) Gruyere cheese, grated*
  • 50g (2 oz) provolone, diced*
  • 100g (3 ½ oz) Milano salami, diced*
  • 5g (1 tsp) coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

Directions

  1. To make the sponge, in a medium bowl, add the water, then stir in the yeast and 1 tsp of the sugar and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk in the egg yolks and remaining 3 tsps of sugar, then add the flour and mix until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 45 minutes to an hour. It will be very puffy.
  3. To make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the eggs, sugar and salt and mix with the paddle attachment. Then add in all of the sponge and continue mixing until blended.
  4. Add all of the flour and mix until you have a rough mass, then add the butter in chunks and continue mixing with the paddle until you have a shaggy dough.
  5. Add in the three grated cheeses and mix until roughly blended.
  6. Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 4 minutes at medium . The dough should be elastic and somewhat smooth. 
  7. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl or container (I recommend a 6 qt. Cambro so you can keep track of the rise), cover tightly and set aside until the dough has nearly tripled (see Notes regarding rise time).
  8. After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and pat into a large rectangle about 3/4" thick. 
  9. Sprinkle half of the provolone and half of the salami over the top and half the pepper, pat in gently, then do a letter fold (thirds), pat the dough into a rectangle again, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, salami and pepper and fold in third once more. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes to fully incorporate the cheese and salami.
  10. Cut the dough in half, then shape each half into a taut round. Place each round in a buttered 2-qt. baking pan (paper panettone bakers work really well). The container should be half full. Cover and set aside to rise until the dough reaches the top of the pan.
  11. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F. Whisk an egg white and brush the top of each loaf. Bake for about 45 minutes until the internal temperature is 190°F. (The top should be dark and mahogany colored but cover with foil if it looks like it's browning too quickly.) Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Recipe source: The Italian Baker by Carol Field

Notes

The recipe calls for a first rise of about 1 1/2 hours, to which I say HA! Mine took just over four hours to triple in volume and that was in my proofer with the temperature cranked up to 80°. It's such a rich dough that I'm not surprised but don't get discouraged if yours takes a long time too.

*You can pretty much use any combination of cheeses and meats you like. I couldn't find Milano salami so I used a dry Italian salami instead. I would also use more next time because one can never have enough salami (I definitely thought these loaves could have used a bit more.)

As much as we all love warm bread fresh from the oven, I'd recommend letting this bread cool fully before eating.  I ate a slice (okay, 3 slices) while it was still warm and couldn't really taste the cheese. Once the bread was cooled, the cheesy flavor was much more pronounced.

#BreadBakers for April: Breads from Italy

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.

If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to foodlustpeoplelove@gmail.com

London Fog Shortbread Cookies #CreativeCookieExchange

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Regardless of where you live or what time zone you're in, I'm declaring that RIGHT NOW, it's Elevenses. That's time for tea and biscuits, thank you very much. (Biscuits being cookies to those of us on the left side of the pond.) I love tea, almost all kinds. It took me a while to warm up to it though because I always associated it with the stuff my mother drank all though my youth. Salada. Only Salada, I think because of the cute little sayings they used to put on their tea bags. Now, I'm sure it's a fine tea—not fancy schmancy—but all I remember is that Salada tea was a total turnoff to my kid nose and palate and it put me off entering the Wonderful World of Tea well into adulthood. (It always comes back to mother, doesn't it?) But about five years ago, I flung off the yoke of my childhood tea aversion and got into it in a big way. And I do mean BIG.

I'm known for my obsessive acquisitive tendencies and tea was no exception. I went from having a couple of tins on the countertop to needing a shelf in a cabinet to needing the entire cabinet to running out to Ikea to buy a free-standing cupboard just for my teas and tisanes (and it still wasn't enough). While I've toned it down of late and no longer need that cupboard, I still love a good cuppa, especially on a rainy day, when I put on some soothing music, fight for space with the dog and three cats on the big poofy chair, curl up with a book and settle in for a nice, relaxing afternoon. 

But what's a cup of tea without a good biscuit/cookie to go along with it? For me, that cookie has to be shortbread—no other cookie will do. There's nothing better—rich, buttery, with its signature sugary crunch. I've never turned one down, in all its forms and variations. The idea of making this favorite tea biscuit with tea as an ingredient, though, never occurred to me until Laura at #CreativeCookieExchange chose "Tea Time Cookies" as this month's theme. Searching on the interwebs for "tea cookies" brought up tons of recipes for matcha cookies—which I've made before—but it was these Earl Grey beauties—London Fog shortbread—that caught my eye. Because I love Earl Grey as much as I love shortbread.

Earl Grey is a classic English tea, a blend of black tea and oil of bergamot, a type of orange (and not the same thing as the herb bergamot). It has an interesting history and it was originally thought that the oil of bergamot was added to disguise the use of inferior tea. Who knew that one of the most beloved teas would blossom from those suspect roots? 

So where does London Fog come in? My first thought was the deadly London fog of 1952 (which, Anglophile that I am, I'd never heard of until I watched "The Crown" on Netflix), but that's not exactly the romantic stuff of tea party dreams and certainly not something to celebrate with a commemorative beverage, is it? Thankfully, this London Fog is an Earl Grey vanilla latte (English tea, Grey, a swirl of milky mist—London Fog…clever) of indeterminate origin, although it's thought to have come from Canada. Not surprising then, that I wouldn't have heard of it since foofy drinks like lattes aren't my thing. I like my coffee black and my tea straight (Starbucks hates me). But these same ingredients in a cookie? Yes, please.

I happened to have an Earl Grey lavender tea on hand (Twinings, again not any fancy schmancy artisanal stuff but it's perfectly fine), which is what I used here. The thin, crisp, tea-flecked shortbread wafer and the notes of citrus and floral positively sing. I also added a sprinkling of sparkling sugar on top because…well, why not? And there you have it, not only a cookie for tea but an entire tea party in one cookie. Pinkies up!

This month's #CreativeCookieExchange theme is "Tea Time Cookies." Be sure to check out the links below because you won't want to miss what the other bakers are bringing to the party.

London Fog Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup confectioner's (icing) sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 vanilla bean split and scraped (or 1 tbsp. vanilla bean paste)
  • 2 tbsp. (3 tea bags) Earl Grey Tea 
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • Sparkling or turbinado sugar (optional, for sprinkling)

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.
  2. Add in the vanilla, vanilla bean or paste) and tea and stir together.
  3. Add in the flour and mix until just combined.
  4. Gather up the dough and form into a flattened disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer.
  5. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  6. Roll out the chilled dough on a well-floured surface to about 1/4" thickness, then cut out desired shapes and place them on the baking sheets. Cover and chill for about 30 minutes (this helps keep the cookies from spreading while baking.)
  7. While the cookies are chilling, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  8. If desired, sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sparkling sugar and press in lightly.
  9. Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes. The edges should just be starting to brown. Cool on the pans for a couple of minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Recipe source Oleander and Palm

Notes

I love my Paderno pastry mat and Joseph Joseph rolling pin, which makes rolling dough out to consistent thickness super easy.

If you're looking for a great source for teas, aside from the larger, well-known companies like Teavana, David's and Adagio, I highly recommend checking out SerendipiTea. Founder/owner Linda is a customer of ours at my day job, and both she and Sonam are not only incredibly knowledgeable but super nice people. Linda also edited a lovely book about tea, written by SerendipiTea's co-founder Tomislav Podreka.

A Note About Links

None of my links to products or companies are affiliate links and I am not compensated in any way. I only recommend and link to things I use, like and want to share.

#CreativeCookieExchange for March: Teatime Cookies

Cookies in the afternoon at “teatime” are a long held tradition, whether served with tea, coffee or even milk for an after school snack. No matter what you serve with your cookies, we’ve got a great list for you to choose from!

You can also use us as a great resource for cookie recipes. Be sure to check out our Pinterest Board and our monthly posts (you can find all of them here at The Spiced Life.) You will be able to find them the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month! Also, if you are looking for inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:

Carrot and Dillisk Bread #BreadBakers

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My decidedly very un-Irish self has always had a soft spot for all things Irish, including Mr. Dough, whose face alone belies his Irish heritage. So we do our part each year around St. Patrick's Day (which, from what I understand, is a much bigger deal in the US—especially New York—than it is in Ireland) to celebrate the Emerald Isle in a fitting way—with food. Food that always includes a classic Irish bread—and I don't mean the abomination known as the green bagel. This year though, I was kind of over endless variations on soda bread and thought I'd try something new, so with great reluctance (insert sarcasm font here), I bought a couple of new cookbooks specifically about Irish breads. Thumbing through, this one immediately caught my eye—Carrot and Dillisk Bread—mainly because I had no clue what dillisk was. Enter Google: Dillisk, also known as dulse, is seaweed. 

Now somehow, when I think of cuisines known for their use of seaweed, Irish doesn’t jump to the head of the line. Japanese, definitely. Irish, not so much. But Ireland not only has a long history with edible seaweed (going back to 1200 BC!)—most especially as a famine food during the Great Potato Famine, when it provided life-saving sustenance to coastal peasants—but harvesting seaweed for multiple uses, including fertilizer as well as food, is fast becoming an important industry in Ireland. (Wait a minute. Fertilizer AND food? Who else is old enough to remember the classic Saturday Night Live skit for new Shimmer? “It’s a floor wax!” “No, it’s a dessert topping!” Just me then? Okay…)

But back to the bread… I was good this time and ordered my dillisk—a North Atlantic seaweed—from local sources in Maine/Canada rather than buying the stuff from Ireland, because who knew when it would actually arrive. Like most quick breads, this one is super easy. I didn't quite know what to expect taste-wise, a little sweetness from the carrots and a salty tang from the seaweed maybe? The texture is dense and moist, it has a slight aroma of the sea and the taste? Well, color me surprised but it tasted just like…cornbread. Yes, cornbread. Go figure. Certainly unexpected but a very pleasant surprise indeed. This is definitely a bread that will go into regular rotation and one that I'd highly recommend trying—forget about those damned green bagels!

This carrot and dillisk bread is my contribution to this month's #BreadBakers theme: Irish Breads, hosted by Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm. Thanks Wendy! Don't forget to check out the links below to see what the other talented bakers came up with.

Carrot and Dillisk Bread

Ingredients

  • 25 g dried dillisk (dulse)
  • 110 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • a pinch of salt
  • 50 g granulated sugar (optional)
  • 250 g white spelt or all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsps baking powder

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and grease and line a 1 lb. loaf pan.
  2. Soak the dillisk in warm water for about 7–10 minutes, then drain, reserving a bit of the soaking water, and chop finely.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the first 6 ingredients together. 
  4. Sift in the baking powder and flour, folding gently until incorporated. If the mixture seems to dry (it should be a fairly thick batter), add a little of the reserved soaking water.
  5. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 50–55 minutes.
  6. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Notes

I thought I'd try chopping the dillisk first before soaking. Yeah, good luck with that. It was nearly impossible. In its unhydrated state, it's fleshy and rubbery and even after trying to cut it with my sharpest knife and pulsing it in the food processor, it was a no-go. Once it's soaked, the texture completely changes and chopping it up was easy-peasy.

Slightly adapted from Irish Bread: Baking for Today by Valerie O'Connor

#BreadBakers March: Irish Breads

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. You can see all our of lovely bread by following our Pinterest board. Links are also updated after each event on the #BreadBakers home page

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to foodlustpeoplelove@gmail.com.