Mission 19: Casatiello

December 19th, 2010 by Chris

Casatiello is an interesting bread to make and to eat, though I’d say that it is probably best understood as the Italian response to French brioche (or perhaps even Jewish challah bread). Make no mistake – this is not your typical Italian rustic “bread.” It has a very delicate almost flaky crust, and a dry crumb that carries a host of different flavors stemming from the many, many ingredients inside ranging from eggs, butter, pepper, numerous cheeses and meat. None of these ingredients overwhelms the others, giving casatiello a blended, sophisticated and complicated (but not overwhelming) taste that has you trying to line up the ingredients you used to the different hints of flavor that you experience as you munch on it.

The odd part about making casatiello is knowing how and when to eat it – or even how to slice it. It’s clearly not right to use as dinner bread, and it’s not really morning bread either (though my wife thinks it is good for this). Is it a type of snack bread? No. Surely not sandwich bread! I’m really not sure where it “goes” in the food universe, so to speak. All this confusion continues into slicing – in the photo, I sliced it like a cake, which seems to be a common practice though I’ve also seen others slice it like regular bread. Also, dieters beware: casatiello is also a major diet buster, so if you’re looking for a low-cal experience, don’t make this!

Casatiello is a complicated bread/brioche to make, there are a number of steps, and so it takes time to get this one right. Moreover, it has a harder to manipulate dough, so I’d put this recipe at the moderate difficulty level – don’t try this until you are comfortable with more standard rustic breads. Moreover, I should note that it isn’t a cheap recipe either, based on all the cheeses and meats that you put into it. I’d definitely recommend this as part of a holiday meal (though I’m not sure how to position it in the meal), given the work and expense required to put it together. Also, I should note that casatiello is typically made with a bunch of whole eggs inserted into the top of the dough, topped with a dough lattice, which during baking sink halfway into the dough. This part of casatiello has always struck me as nasty, so I didn’t do it, and Field’s recipe didn’t call for it, which was fine with me!

Step One: The Sponge

1. 4 ¼ teaspoons of yeast added to the mixing bowl with 1 tbsp + 1tsp of sugar and 1 ¼ cup warm water.

2. Stir them together and then wait 10 minutes for the yeast to get foamy

3. In a separate bowl mix 4 egg yolks and 1 ¼ tsp of salt

4. Add to the yeast mixture and start to mix with the paddle attachment on low

5. Add 2 ¼ cups of flour and after mixed well together, use the dough hook for 2 or 3 min.

I should note here that Field says that you should have a soft dough form at this point, but that’s not what happened for me. At this level of hydration (figuring the yolks are adding significantly to the moisture), 2 ¼ cups of flour just doesn’t seem to be enough to create a soft workable dough. My dough did not in any way ‘come together’ at this point, so I added ¾ more cup of flour, and I ended up with a reasonably shaped — but still heavily hydrated — dough. There’s no way I could have lifted this dough and worked it on a counter, so don’t expect that kind of dough. Doesn’t matter, in any event – it’s just the sponge!

6.  Cover with a towel and let it sit for 1 hour.

Step Two: Making the Dough

1. Punch down the sponge, which should have expanded quite a bit by now.

2. Add 4 eggs, 1 ½ cup of sugar, and 1 1/3 tsp of salt to the sponge and mix with the paddle.

This is going to be a mess, as the sponge is at this point a pre-formed dough, so it isn’t going to naturally incorporate the extra ingredients. You’ll have to try to stop the mixer now and again and use a spatula or something to work in the extra elements into the dough, then use the paddle again, then stop, use the spatula again, and so on until you get the ingredients fully incorporated.

3. Add 2 sticks of unsalted butter melted but at room temperature, and repeat the spatula-paddle treatment to incorporate.

4. Add 4 ¼ cups of flour slowly to the mix. Probably around the 3 cup time, switch to the hook and then add the last 1 ¼ cup while the hook is going. This will take a lot of stopping and starting, again, to get the ingredients to really mix up well. It’s a mess in the mixing bowl for a while before it starts to come together.

5. Grate (if you bought the cheese in blocks) 2 oz of Pecorino Romano cheese, 2 oz of Parmesan cheese, 1 oz of Gruyere cheese.

Note: I disagree with Field here on the amounts. If I had one complaint about my own product, it was the fact that the inside additions could have been greater. Next time I would at least double the ingredients in #5, but of course it’s up to you!

6.  While the dough hook is going (low-medium), sprinkle in all the cheese (slowly). You should wind up with a big shaggy mass of moist dough that can be pulled out of the mixer as a solid blob.

7. Put the dough in a very large oiled bowl and let it sit for 1 ½ hours, or until tripled in size.

Step Three: Prepping the Dough

1. After it has gone through the first rise (#7 last step), lightly flour a surface and drop that shaggy mass onto it.

2. Cut it into two pieces.

3. Taking one piece, knead it lightly down into a circle until you have a disk about ½ inch thick or so.

4. Cut 2 oz of provolone cheese into small cubes and cut 3 ½ oz of Milano salami into small chunks.

Similar to the above disagreement with Field, I would double this amount if I did this again. I might even do more than that.

5. Take ¼ of the cubes and ¼ of the salami and spread it around, pushing it into the dough.

6. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of black pepper around the dough

7. In order to make a ball, pull on the sides of the dough outward, stretching slightly and then folding back into the center of the dough, pressing it down when done. Repeat this for all the sides. As you do this, add in more of the provolone and salami (until you’ve used ½ of what you have.

8. Flip the dough over and use your fingers to tuck in the bottom, so that you have a reasonably shaped ball.

9. Do it again with the other dough.

Step Four: Second Rise and Baking

1. Field says to place each of dough into a separate 2qt charlotte mold that is buttered. I didn’t have a charlotte mold, so instead I used two 9 inch springform pans, lightly sprayed with Pam.

If you are shy the charlotte molds, and want to use a springform pan, looking back I would recommend a smaller set. My products came out roundish, whereas casatiello should end up looking a bit more like a muffin of sorts. The problem was that the 9 inch springforms were a bit too big, so they never really pushed up against the sides. I’d recommend possibly a 7 or 8 inch pan to get the right look. If you only have a standard 9 inch, no big deal, you’ll just take a hit on aesthetics.

2. Cover the pans and let them sit for 1 ½ hours.

3. Preheat oven to 400.

4. When the loaves are ready, brush them with egg white.

5. Bake for 45 min.

Field says 45 minutes on the baking – but mine came out a little too overdone (it was fine, but clearly it was in 5 or so minutes too long). I’d watch it at the 35 – 40 min mark, so assure that it doesn’t get too dark.

6. Let cool and eat!

One Response to “Mission 19: Casatiello”

  1. A Ku Indeed! » Blog Archive » BBA #5: Italian Casatiello Says:

    [...] version of French brioche. People who follow this blog regularly know that I’ve already taken on the casatiello challenge before, back in December of last year. That time, I followed Carol Field’s recipe, whereas this time [...]

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