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

Chard Galette with Herbed Ricotta and Goat Cheese

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I didn't exactly kill it in this year's garden. Well, actually I did, just in the literal sense, not in the "I WIN!" sense. It's really my own damned fault. I started out with the best of intentions and a boatload of lovingly tended seedlings ready to put down roots, but it was one thing after another and by the time I got around to planting them, it was a month too late and they were so stressed, they kind of went belly up. I got zero zucchini—that's ZERO, if you can imagine anyone not being able to grow zucchini—a few measly peppers, and one anemic eggplant. The herbs did okay though, especially my basil, which was EPIC. I mean, leaves as big as my hand. And then the Japanese beetles decimated the entire crop almost overnight. One day, I had a enough basil to keep an entire continent in pesto for year. The next morning, the beetles were lounging around on a bunch of denuded stems, and it was "Check please! So long and thanks for all the basil!"  Le sigh…

But it's not a complete horror show, thankfully. Herbs aside, my Earthboxes didn't fail me (they never do) so my San Marzanos are thriving, despite my best efforts to kill them through benign neglect. And then there's the chard. Woo boy, do I have chard. Chard is my zucchini. Everyone I meet, it's "Would you like some chard? No, really, take some chard. JUST TAKE THE DAMNED CHARD!" Mysterious care packages are showing up on my neighbors' doorsteps, courtesy of the chard fairy. I'm drowning in chard.

So what does one do with such bounty? One would do well to bake this galette, that's what. And I do. A LOT. Because not only does it require a lots of chard, but it's really, really good. And I'm not just saying that because I want you to email me for some of my chard surplus. It's good. In fact, it's not just good, it's exceptional. And you need to bake one pronto.

I love galettes of any stripe. For one thing, they're always pretty easy. For another, you can make one with just about anything. But most importantly, they're RUSTIC. Meaning you can completely screw it up, looks-wise, and no one will know. Odd folds, cracks, drips, major leaks, whatever…those are the things that make galettes so endearing. "It's RUSTIC! It's supposed to look that way!"

Regardless of what it looks like, though, it's all about taste and this one, as I said, is exceptional. It's loaded with so many good things. The crust has a bit of crunch from cornmeal and it's filled with caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta, fresh herbs, CHARD, topped with tangy chunks of goat cheese, brushed with an egg wash and baked to perfection. It's great hot from the oven, cooled down a bit, or even cold. I've had it for dinner, for lunch and even for breakfast (why not?) It's rich, tangy, full of flavor and so, so satisfying. And with all of those veggies, it's good for you too, right? 

Aside from the chard, I used my herbs and last year's crop of San Marzano tomatoes that I seasoned and dried, plus homemade ricotta, but if you don't have a garden or if you killed yours like I did this year, of course, store-bought is just fine. And if you have trouble finding chard, you know who to call. 

Chard Galette with Herbed Ricotta and Goat Cheese

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1 cup white whole-wheat flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup ice water

Filling

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 large bunch chard, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten, for brushing

Directions

  1. To make the crust, place the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until combined. Add in the butter pieces and continue pulsing until incorporate—it should look a bit like sand. With the processor running, slowly add the ice water and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Don't over mix.

  2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather together into a ball, then flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour. (You can also prepare the dough up to 3 days ahead.

  3. To make the filling, add oil to a large skillet and heat on medium-high. Add the onions and salt and cook until the onions are starting to brown. Add 2 tablespoons of water, turn the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the onions are caramel colored, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning.
  4. When the onions have caramelized, add the vinegar and stir for about 1 minute. Then add the chopped chard and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 3–5 minutes. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a bowl and let rest for about 20 minutes until the mixture is at room temperature.
  5. Let the dough rest, unwrapped, for about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  6. Drain off any liquid from the vegetable, then mix in the egg, ricotta, sun-dried tomatoes, 2 teaspoons each of the chopped thyme and oregano, pepper and salt.
  7. Dust a sheet of parchment lightly with flour, then roll the dough out into a 14" circle. Place the dough on the parchment onto a baking sheet.
  8. Spoon the veggie/cheese mixture over the dough, leaving about a 2" border. Dot the goat cheese on top and sprinkle on the remaining thyme and oregano.
  9. Fold the edges of the dough over the filling, leaving most of the filling exposed. Brush the beaten egg over the crust.
  10. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling hot. Let rest a bit before slicing.

Recipe Source: EatingWell.com

Korean Egg Bread (Gyeran Bbang)

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I don't think I ever would have discovered this wonderful Korean street food—egg bread or Gyeran Bbang—had it not been for my grandmother. Not that she was a particularly adventurous cook who delighted in serving us up exotic foods from around the world. Quite the contrary, actually. There are really only two things I ever remember her making. Turkey and brisket. Every. Single. Time. Turkey and brisket. No surprises at Nan's house, that's for sure. No, the reason my grandmother is responsible for my discovery of Gyeran Bbang is because, throughout her long life, as far back as I can remember, she was a world traveler. And after she died in 2009, two months shy of her 100th birthday, I found her last passport while we were going through her things. I've never seen a passport like it, stuffed with extra pages so that all of her visas would fit. She was a pretty amazing person, my grandmother, and I miss her every day, so I decided I wanted to celebrate her life by going through that passport and baking something that represented each country she had visited (and tell you a little bit about her while I'm at it). Travels with Sylvia.

It's a pretty extensive list of countries—and keep in mind this is just from her last passport—I couldn't even begin to guess how many other countries she visited in her lifetime: Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, China, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, England, Ghana, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Pitcairn Island, Poland, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe, most of which she visited more than once. My original idea was to bake a bread from each country, but I'm not sure if some of them actually have a representative bread, so it'll be some national dish at least, if not a bread. (Some countries do have me worried though. Pitcairn Island? Breadfruit? Something left over from the Bounty mutineers maybe? Help!)

So. First stop (I'm going in no particular order here): Korea. The one bread that came up over and over again in my searches was this. Egg bread, or gyeran bbang. Which means…drumroll please…egg bread. And which is to Korea, apparently, what soft pretzels are to New York, the quintessential street snack. I can definitely see why. It fits easily in the hand, it hits all the right hunger-quelling notes, and it tastes gosh-darn good. At its most basic, it's batter with an egg on top baked in a muffin-ish tin (oval tins seem to be the go-to but I don't have one…yet), resulting in a bread that's light and fluffy, almost like a pancake, and slightly sweet. Sometimes you'll see this as a kind of sandwich—batter on top and bottom, egg in the middle—but most of the gyeran bbang I stumbled on were like this on, batter on bottom, egg on top. And the possibilities for add-ins are endless, with ham and cheese being especially popular. That's what I went for because, well…ham. And cheese and I are likethis.

Simply put, I. Love. Korean egg bread. It's so quick and easy to make, it could easily be something you can whip up on the spur of the moment, especially since you most likely have all of the ingredients on hand. It was fantastic warm from the oven, but leftovers reheated very nicely (25 seconds in the microwave) and made for a very satisfying and sustaining day starter that kept me happy until it was time for a late lunch. I can definitely see why it's the ubiquitous Korean street snack. Pocket food!

Good start on our travels, don't you think? Nan would approve and like the good Jewish grandmother she was, she'd tell you to "Eat! Have another! Are you sure you don't want one more? You're looking a little weak from hunger…" 

So where to next? I'd love to hear your suggestions, especially if you've visited any of the countries on the list. And I'd love to hear your amazing and funny grandma stories, too, because cynical, snarky me gets all warm and fuzzy thinking about grandmas. Here, have an egg bread. You look hungry…

Korean Egg Bread (Gyeran Bbang)

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 large egg (for batter)
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup (75g) melted butter 
  • 1/4 tsp natural vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs (to top each bread) *see Notes

Options

  • Diced ham
  • Bacon
  • Grated cheese
  • Minced parsley
  • Hot sauce (that's for you, Chris)
  • Whatever your imagination desires

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Use oil spray or butter to lightly coat the cups of a jumbo (6 hole) muffin pan.
  2. Add the flour, sugar and salt to a large bowl and mix together.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the egg, milk, butter and vanilla extract and whisk together.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until well mixed.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the 6 wells of the muffin pan. 
  6. Gently break an egg on top of the batter in each well. 
  7. Season and top as desired (I used flaked sea salt, diced Canadian bacon, cheddar cheese and minced parsley).
  8. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the batter comes out clean.
  9. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. The egg breads are best eaten the same day, warm from the oven, but can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container and reheated the next day. 

Recipe source: My Korean Kitchen

Notes

I'm going to sing the praises of pasture-raised eggs. A few months ago, I was listening to the audiobook of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's a wonderfully entertaining and informative book all around but I was particularly fascinated by the section on Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms and even more particularly, by the description of Salatin's pasture-raised eggs. I normally buy only organic, cage-free eggs (although Pollan's book is pretty eye-opening about what this means) but I was very interested in trying pasture-raised, although not having any farms nearby (to my knowledge) I didn't hold out much hope of obtaining any. Then suddenly, they started appearing in some local stores and I grabbed a carton. The difference, to put it mildly, is amazing and it's obvious even in the crappy iPhone pic I snapped one morning. Visually, the white is yellowish and much more viscous, not pale and watery like the organic egg. And the yolk! Oh that yolk. Standing proud and tall and glowing like a mini orange sun. As for taste, well, they just taste…eggier. Like an egg is supposed to taste. There's a definite difference and I'm sold. Now, I'll be honest here. They're more expensive as organic eggs and nearly twice as much as standard eggs. There are two brands that I've found locally, Carol's Eggs and Vital Farms, and I try to buy them when they're on sale. I don't use them for any old thing, not for egg washes or binders or things like that, but when eggs are front-and-center, as they are in EGG BREAD, then yeah. Why not the best? 

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