Molding. Usually we use this word as a gerund for the verb most applicable to cheese and nearly all outdoor surfaces in the Pacific Northwest. This week I’ve been using it more architecturally, in a corporeal sense. “Crown molding” now has fresh significance as something we assess during every newborn physical exam. When we arrive into the world, the bony plates that protect the most vital organ, the brain, are no better than a cracked egg shell. Fortunately, the sutures—the cracks—will fuse together in time, proving in most cases the story of Humpty Dumpty to be fairy tale. Until they fuse, they leave little patches, little diamonds and triangles of bareness, about the brain. The word for these soft spots is fontanelle—which sounds like a cheerleading team captain’s name. It is a thrill to trace these little fountain wells, imagining what thoughts will be held here. Who traced Einstein’s fontanelles? The way the skull walls grow together is therefore a matter of molding, a word that would suggest there is something against which new growth finds tension—that there might be some rough mold from which we all are formed.
Plato would likely enjoy this line of thought. This bread, on the other hand, is more like molding Play-doh. Crescia means crest, the classic molding of this classic Italian Easter bread–a mountain mold of Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, and eggs.
Crescia al Formaggio
Adapted from The Italian Baker
2 cups sourdough starter
4 large room temperature eggs
3 egg yolks
5 TB lukewarm water
1 TB sugar
1 stick softened butter
4 TB olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
4 cups flour
1 egg white, beaten
Mix together the sourdough starter, water and sugar. Beat eggs in a separate bowl and add to the starter. Add the butter, grated, and then the oil. Add two cups of flour. Add the cheese and salt. Add the remainder of the flour, kneading 10-12 minutes or until the dough has the soft consistency of PlayDoh. It won’t seem to want to adhere to itself, thanks to the butter and oil.
Move the dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit for about two hours.
Turn the dough over and gently deflate it (if it rose at all), and let it sit for 15 minutes.
Shaping. Now I’ve seen people do braids with this bread, which is really lovely but also NOT honoring tradition. This bread was named Crescia because of the way the Umbrian bakers would place the dough to rise in terra-cotta flowerpots. The rising bread would dramatically dome above the tops of the pots, hence “crescia”—dramatic crest. All that to say, I’m not sure many of us have oiled and foodsafe pretreated flowerpots laying around the kitchen, but if you do, huzzah. I chose to make a boule so as to go for the crest, and I baked it in a cast-iron pan. This recipe makes enough dough for two small boules. Allow the dough to rise for at least two hours and possibly more, depending on the room temperature. The dough will not double, but will get puffy.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the tops of the dough with egg white.
Bake the bread for 45 minutes, or until the loaves have risen dramatically and have darkened to a deep golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes before “unmolding” from the pot or pan—one of my new favorite words.