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

Pumpkin Sour Cherry Sourdough Bread #BreadBakers

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It's that time of year again. Pumpkin season. Pumpkin SPICE season, to be exact. A season that food bloggers and readers alike approach with the same feeling Ripley had when she realized she was alone on the Nostromo with the Alien that had just made a between meal snack of the rest of the crew. Pure dread. Noooo! Let me alleviate your fears. Yes, this is a pumpkin recipe. No, there's not a pumpkin spice to be found. In fact, not counting the salt, there's no spice at all. It's just a classic sourdough with the subtle flavor and color of pumpkin, dotted with bright bursts of dried sour cherries and it's one of my favorites.

If the marks of a good book are dog-eared place finders and margin notes, then the marks of a good cookbook are splatters and stuck-together pages. And by that standard, Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories and More by Sarah Owens is a very good book indeed. It's got so many splatters and stuck-together pages that I'm close to having to buy a second copy. It says a lot about the quality of the bakes in the book; not so much about my neatness in the kitchen (I admit it, I'm a pig.) I've baked quite a few of the recipes, some more than once, but this bread is one I keep coming back to over and over again. This is my first time baking it with pumpkin however; it's butternut squash in the original. But pumpkin is this month's #BreadBakers theme, so pumpkin it is, and it's none the worse for the switch.

Unfortunately, it's not quite time for fresh pumpkins 'round these parts, which is a shame since the original recipe also calls for roasting and pureeing your own squash. Roasting definitely adds another dimension of flavor but canned pumpkin (organic here) did just fine. The only noticeable difference I could find was purely aesthetic, the bread was slightly less orange with the pumpkin than it was for the butternut squash. I also thought about substituting cranberries for the cherries but that just screamed "CLICHE!" so I stuck with the cherries—sour ones this time instead of sweet. Like a lot of sourdoughs, this is a two-day affair. Mostly hands-off, of course, but well worth every minute.

So there you have it, a pumpkin spice-free pumpkin bread. But don't think you're in the clear. There's a pumpkin spice invasion heading your way and resistance is futile.

Be sure to check out the links below to see how the other #BreadBakers ran with the theme—they're an awesome bunch. And many thanks to Kylee over at Kylee Cooks for hosting! I really do like pumpkin spice. Honest.

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Pumpkin Sour Cherry Sourdough Bread

Ingredients

Leaven

  • 30g 100% hydration starter
  • 60g water
  • 85g bread flour

Dough

  • 175g leaven
  • 250g pumpkin puree
  • 355g water
  • 45g mild honey
  • 525g bread flour
  • 140g whole wheat flour
  • 30g medium-grind rye flour
  • 14g sea salt
  • 80g dried sour cherries

Directions

  1. To make the leaven, 8 to 10 hours before you plan to make the dough, plate the starter and water into a large bowl and stir together. Add the flour and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or dough whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature to ferment. The leaven should be very active and puffy.
  2. When the leaven is ready, add the pumpkin puree, water and honey to the bowl and mix together, breaking up the leaven. Add in the flours and mix, preferably with your hands, until no dry flour remains and the mixture is free of lumps. Cover with plastic and set aside for 20 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix in thoroughly with your hands, making sure the salt is completely incorporated.
  4. Add the cherries and fold in.
  5. Cover with plastic and set aside to proof for about 3 to four hours, with a stretch-and-fold every 30 minutes. The dough should be nearly doubled in size at the end of the proof.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface and divide in half. Preshape each half, cover and let rest for 10–30 minutes. Shape as desired (I generally make boules), then place each seam side up in a well-floured banneton (or bowl lined with floured lint-free kitchen towel). Cover each banneton with a towel and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours (or overnight).
  7. When you're ready to bake, remove the loaves from the fridge and let them come to room temperature (at least an hour, maybe more depending on ambient temperature).
  8. About 20–30 minutes before you're ready to bake, place one or two covered Dutch ovens on the lowest rack and preheat your oven to 500°F. Cut a piece of parchment that is somewhat larger than the loaf but still able to fit easily inside the Dutch oven.
  9. Sprinkle a little cornmeal on the parchment and turn out the loaf on top, seam side down. Score the loaf as desired, then, using the parchment paper as a carrier, carefully transfer the loaf to the Dutch oven (HOT!), cover with the lid and return to the oven. Reduce the temperature to 470°F and bake for about 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 12–20 minutes. The loaf should be a dark brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Notes

If you want to roast your pumpkin (or other squash) and make your own puree, make sure you start with at least double the final amount of puree by weight. (500g should yield about 250g of puree.)

You can also bake directly on a baking stone, if preferred. I've done it both ways but I'm slightly more partial to the Dutch oven method.

If you only have one Dutch oven, stagger the times that you remove the loaves from the fridge, taking out the second loaf about an hour after the first. Once the first loaf has baked, crank the oven back up to 500° and repeat the process.

Yes, there are two science fiction references here. If I had mentioned that you all need to break out your toasters because this bread makes awesome toast (it does!), it would have been three. I'm a geek.

Recipe Source: Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories and More

Pumpkin Sour Cherry Sourdough with a giant hunk of brie? Yes, please. 

Pumpkin Sour Cherry Sourdough with a giant hunk of brie? Yes, please. 

#BreadBakers for September: Pumpkin

#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.

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