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