Easter in Italy is a season of eggy, cheesy breads and rich meats. Perhaps it shall be here too, but first, we are in Lent, and at Calvary we celebrate the breaking of the bread with hard wheat wafers baked by church members. Today is my contribution Sunday. I was so tempted to sneak in this Italian Casatiello, but I think Father Nick surely would have noticed. And it probably would have grease stained his robe. Watch out for calories on this one—this is the bread loaf equivalent of a Big Mac, surely.
Adapted from The Italian Baker
2 cups sourdough starter
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon, sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water
4 egg yolks
About 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup, plus 1 1/2 tablespoons, sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons salt
About 4 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons, unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup olive oil
2 ounces pecorino romano cheese, grated
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
2 ounces provolone, cut into small cubes
3 1/2 ounces Milano salami, sliced and chopped
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 egg white, lightly beaten
To make the sponge, stir the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar into the water in a mixing bowl and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the egg yolks and remaining sugar and stir until smooth. Stir in half the flour and beat until smooth. Add the remaining flour and the salt and stir until a soft dough is formed. Knead gently on a floured surface for 3 to 4 minutes. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double in size, about 1 hour.
To make the dough, beat the eggs, sugar and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of flour and stir until smooth. Cut the sponge into small pieces and add them to the dough mixture. Beat together, then add the remaining flour and mix with your hands to a shaggy mass. Mix in the butter. Sprinkle the dough with the grated cheeses and knead them in with your hands. Continue kneading on a lightly floured surface until the dough is elastic, supple and fairly smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until almost tripled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and pat and roll into a large rectangle about 3/4-inch thick. Sprinkle half the provolone, half the salami and half the pepper over the surface.
Fold into thirds, like a business letter; then roll the dough out again 3/4-inch thick. Sprinkle with the remaining provolone, salami and pepper and fold again into thirds.
Gently knead for 2 to 3 minutes to distribute the cheese and salami evenly. Cut the dough in half and knead each half gently into a round ball. Place each ball in a buttered 2-quart charlotte mold or souffle dish. The dough should fill about half the mold. Cover with a towel and let rise to the tops of the molds, about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with the lightly beaten egg white. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until the tops are very brown and shiny. Remove from the molds and cool on racks.
In this bread is a whole buffet table helping of breakfast. Re-allocate your calories appropriately. Or, if you make this for Easter Sunday, tell kids that if they find this loaf, it’s worth 8 eggs in the hunt. The Italians actually make it in the shape of a ring to symbolize a crown, and then stick dyed Easter eggs on top to symbolize new birth. Looks ridiculous, but, so are a lot of Easter traditions.
Here’s my Abbey Altar Bread for this Sunday– pretty austere.