BBA #5: Italian Casatiello

February 3rd, 2011 by Chris

We’ve been snowed in out here in southwestern Missouri by the latest big storm (the snomageddon as some called it). Each of the four of us head off to different schools (as students or teachers) in the morning and for the last few days, all of our respective schools (kids’ and adults’) have been closed due to weather. Since I’ve been stuck indoors, I figured I might as well get an early start on this week’s challenge, casatiello – the Italian 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 I followed Reinhart’s. In fact, Reinhart gives Field a shout-out when writing up his own formula, which is apparently his own alteration of Field’s version. I’ve made this particular bread quite a few times, each time tweaking Field’s recipe myself. As a result, I didn’t think this week would be particularly difficult or out of my baking comfort zone. As it turns out, it wasn’t.

Admittedly, although I’m a big fan of Carol Field’s (before Reinhart’s book I had exclusively worked from her book, the Italian Baker for the past year), I didn’t love her casatiello. For a lot of reasons (that I explain below) I should have loved her recipe, but in the end I was only a marginal fan (which explains all the tweaking – I was trying to get it to come out in a way I would like). So when I saw that this week’s challenge was casatiello, I wasn’t terribly excited, as I figured I’d be a so-so fan yet again. However, in the end I liked Reinhart’s version much better than Field’s. His version improves on her recipe by toning down all of the aspects of Field’s casatiello that are, in my opinion, too excessive. The result is a smooth tasting, delicately crusted, moist and gently crumbed delight — with just a hint of richness from the butter and egg ingredients and just the right amount of extra taste coming from the sauteed pepperoni and the sharp provolone. I made this to go along with a basil-heavy marinara sauce, and I must admit I felt a bit decadent using the casatiello to sop up the extra sauce on my plate, but it went together so well I excused myself the non-virtuous excess. (Here you’ll find Jim’s, Adam’s, Geraint’sDJ’sNancy’s and Coz’s. As my fellow BBA bakers file in — a little late this week? –I’ll add their links here.)

What first attracted me to Field’s casatiello was the fact that the ingredients reminded me of one of my favorite all time meals growing up. As a kid, a special treat (when we had the cash) for us was to go to the Italian deli, get a loaf of fresh Italian bread (you know, the real stuff, not the crap they call Italian bread out here), a water and salted mozzarella, some extra sharp provolone, pepperoni, tomatoes, and some prosciutto (some of which would be hanging from the ceiling in huge shanks – oh the smells! — glorious!). Bringing it all home, we knew were about to have sandwich time, Italian American style! Seriously, the mere thought of making these tiny sandwiches was enough to turn me into a one-thought-focused zombie. What a meal. It was our version of antipasto, but on bread.

Casatiello in some ways reminds me of that meal, but all the ingredients are already baked into the bread. In fact, Field’s recipe calls for four different kinds of cheeses (if I recall right, provolone, gruyere, parmesan, and I can’t recall the fourth) and a meat or two (Field’s calls for Italian salami). Reinhart’s recipe takes that down to one cheese and one meat, which I think is actually a good idea. All those extra cheeses didn’t, in my opinion, add that much, and the cost level really does go up fast when you add them, so they should make an impact to justify the expense. Still, when you eat Reinhart’s casatiello you still get the distinct impression that it is a compressed sandwich (or antipasto!) loaded with Italian meats and cheeses. The toning down of the recipe doesn’t affect quality.

Overall, it is probably easiest to think of casatiello as a mild brioche. On the heart-attack scale, it is a bit milder than the poor man’s brioche from last week’s challenge. Which is good.Filing out insurance forms while I’m eating isn’t my thing.


I don’t find casatiello to be terribly hard to make. Yet again, I can’t see rating it higher than novice (I think this is four in a row). It’s not quite a beginner bread, because of the added extra ingredients, all of which make shaping the dough — or even knowing when the dough is ready for first rising — a bit more challenging. At the same time, it’s really not that hard to do those things, even with the extra ingredients. I can’t imagine rating it as intermediate.

In fact, I might be willing to rate Carol Field’s casatiello as an “intermediate minus” because it adds so many ingredients to the dough that it is hard to keep the thing together. I remember making mine and salami and cheese (the four different cheeses) were ripping their way through the surface of the dough. I had rips in the dough everywhere. It was a bit old mess (came out good, but it it was definitely a bit of a challenge to make the dough behave in the appropriate way).

As I noted, luckily Reinhart’s recipe doesn’t have that much in it (one cheese, one meat), so there’s nothing to really worry about in that area. I did have a minor problem at the end in the baking process (it didn’t seem done to me, when it actually was), and this threw me for a bit of confusion, but it wasn’t a big deal. If you’re doing it the second time, you’d know exactly how it should turn out and then the finishing process wouldn’t be a concern at all (I discuss that below).


Comments on the Process

Casatiello has the three basic steps -  (a) sponge, (b) dough/shape, (c) bake. I stayed literal with the recipe until stage (c), where I made a few minor alterations.

Step One – Sponge

Reinhart describes this fast one hour sponge as like pancake batter. He was right — that’s an apt description. It does look like it’s ready to be thrown on a griddle. Don’t do that, mind you. It would make for a pretty disgusting pancake.

The Glorious Sponge

Once again, Reinhart made a promise that the process was not prepared to keep. He said that the sponge would double and then a mild tapping on the bowl would cause the sponge to collapse. My sponge never doubled, but as you know from the last two challenges, this is hardly a news flash. The fact that my sponges fail to rise and then fall is just about as informative as the sentence “Charlie Sheen fails at rehab.”

Step Two – Dough, Retard, Shape

Dough About to Rise

I had little difficulty with the dough creation part of the process.

I’m sure that part of that fact came, as I’ve noted, from the fact that I’ve made this before, a few times. Most of the time when I redo this recipe (Field’s) I take out the eggs and load up even more cheese and meat, making the dough really a lot closer to a normal bread dough, but just with a little extra butter added. The end result, though, is that I’m used to what happens when you add all this stuff.

Now, a few comments on the process that might help those who have never done this before.

First. Reinhart says you can use salami or pepperoni. I’ve done both before – go with the pepperoni, if you can get a real pepperoni stick (not the crap pepperoni slices that come in that lame bag in the supermarket). The salami doesn’t have enough kick (where “kick” is extra meaty flavor in the same way that “wang” is extra cheesy flavor). Basically, salami doesn’t add enough to the final product. The good thing about pepperoni is that it inevitably leaks fats into the product, spreading the kick around. Salami doesn’t do that.

Second, and related, Reinhart says to sautee the meat chunks. I’ve never done this before, so I did it this time. It added a bit to the process, but seems unnecessary in the long run. What this does do is remove much of the excess fat from the meat. If you just put the pepperoni in the dough, you will wind up (as I said) with leakage in the baking process. When you cut into the bread, you’ll see larger pools of baked pepperoni fat (which is good). If you sautee the meat, you won’t get that. Now Reinhart does say that you can add the fat from the frying pan to the dough later, which would spread the fat around evenly. From my view, you might as well just add the meat without frying it – you’ll get the same result anyway.

Third, Reinhart says to add specific cheeses and avoid others. He specifically says to use provolone, which I agree is a good one to use. He says to avoid mozzarella – and he’s right. Mozzarella is too bland to add to bread. The problem, as you’ll see, is that when you add cheeses to bread they – for the most part — completely evaporate into the bread. You can’t find them in the way that you can find the meat. They just get incorporated into the dough. So you don’t want to choose a cheese without any real wang to it. You’d just be adding money and calories for no reason.

Dough Rising With Cat in Distance

Fourth, and related to the cheese issue, Reinhart says to use shredded cheese. I don’t recommend this. My reason is simple: if you use shredded cheese, you are guaranteed not to find any cheese in the dough physically. It will evaporate into the dough. Instead, I recommend two things:

a) Use larger chunks. Most of this will evaporate too. But if you use larger cubes or chunks, you will likely wind up with some actual cheese “spots” that are physically present. It took me a few times around the block with this to figure out the cheese issue.

b) Although Reinhart says to add the meat and cheeses in the actual mixing process, this is not entirely necessary. You can add then during the shaping process. This is something Field recommends. So after you rise the dough, punch it down, and then add the meat and cheese through the various stages of creating the boule. If you do this you’ll also wind up with a cleaner looking dough, since all of the meats and cheeses with me inside the dough as opposed to some jutting out of the dough itself (which is inevitable if you add them during the mixing process). Doing it this way also makes the process of mixing easier, and also leads to a greater possibility that the cheeses won’t entirely evaporate (wince the mixer wouldn’t have broken up the cheeses in the mixing process).

Now, this time around, I should note that I added them in the mixing process, just to see what would happen, but in the end – now having done both – I think adding them in the shaping process would be just fine.

(Picture note: in the picture above, I had my dough in the first rise in a covered bowl near my fireplace. I don’t usually do that, but it was -10 outside, and inside it was barely 65 degrees, so I knew that would mean a longer rise period. So I put it nearer the fire. What was cool about the pic was my cat is visible somewhat just behind the other chair!)

Step Three – Baking

Proofing on a Peel

Up until the baking process, I kept close to Reinhart’s recipe. However, when we hit the baking stage, I made a few alterations.

First, I didn’t have the pans that he asked for. He recommends doing a pannetone-like process where you put it in a can with a paper liner, but I didn’t have either of the needed tools to do that, and it was blizzard like outside so I couldn’t go anywhere to get them. He also suggests that you could use an 8-inch baking pan and have it cook in that, but I goofed and let my dough free rise (to the left) after I shaped it into a boule for too long. My plan had been to let it free rise a few minutes and then transfer it to an 8-inch springform I had nearby, but I lost track of time and by the time I got back to it, the dough had expanded past the size of the springform.

So I had to just let it go as a free-standing loaf. Which, to be honest, was fine with me, but I had wanted to follow the recipe straight through all the way to the end. Ah well!

My last and final issue was at the very end. Reinhart suggests that you let it bake for 40 to 50 minutes at 325. Field recommends 400 for 50 minutes, so the difference in temperature really struck me as large. So I did mine at 350 (given that Field’s came out really good at 400). However, after 50 minutes, it didn’t seem ready to me. It was too soft. So I would up letting it bake for 10 additional minutes, at which point is was stiff soft on the crust (but rightly so, given the ingredients), but ready to go.

A word of caution: if you free-stand the baking, beware that the final product is not going to be solid like a bread loaf. If you apply too much pressure in handling it, you may collapse that part of the crust. So be careful. The crust is very light and delicate. You need to handle the product with care.

Comments on the Final Product

This is a great bread. My wife loved it – she, like me – preferred Reinhart’s version to Field’s. It’s thick, flavorful, but not overly rich (and gag reflex inducing) in the way that the rich man’s brioche was. I suspect that this bread is like making poor man’s brioche, but with extra meats and cheeses. In some ways, because of the extra stuff inside, it’s like a sandwich bread that you don’t need to add anything to. It’s a sandwich unto itself! As I’ve said, I’ve done this recipe before, and I can easily see doing it again.

Regular Side Shot

Aesthetically, I wouldn’t say much about this bread – but that’s my fault, as I baked it as a free-standing loaf. I imagine that using the cans with the bags would make this far more attractive insofar as photos go. Note the pepperoni sticking out of the sides!

Slice Shot

This shot didn’t come out as good as I’d hoped (it was nighttime, so I needed some extra light and the flash didn’t engage for some reason). However, you can see that the pepperoni is clearly present, but the cheese is a bit harder to find (though I used larger chunks, so you can see some of it). The crumb on this bread is delightfully moist and flavorful, by the way!

Crumb Shot

Here’s the title shot again, which is a better photo and does a better job of capturing the crumb, along with the nice holes I got this time around.

Next Week: Challah

This time around, I am excited about next week’s challenge. First, I love challah bread, and grew up in an area in NYC where it was easy to get the highest quality challah around. Second, it looks to me as if challah is a bit more difficult than some of the breads we’ve made so far. At the very least, the braiding pattern is not easy. So I’m looking forward to the challenge. See you then!

31 Responses to “BBA #5: Italian Casatiello”

  1. Sharlene Says:

    Chris, you’ve given me the only reason to leave the sunny beach and return to the dismal winter in VA- by trying out your casatiello version using pepperoni and boule style! By the way, did your kids like it? My kids love pizza, so I think this may be right up their alley. I liked how you compared both recipes and discussed the reasons for your preferences. Your casatiello looks delicious and moist.

  2. Adam Says:

    I think you’ve got a beautiful loaf there. I wish I hadn’t baked mine in loaf pans. I’ll have my post up soon, but did anyone else notice that 6 oz. of shredded provolone was way more than the volume measure of 3/4 cup in BBA?

  3. jim Says:

    Chris,thanks for all the info,i never considered a boule.I agree this is a fairly easy recipe,even with the filling ingredients.My sponge fermented for 2+hours,ran errands,got back late.Although it was bubbly,it didn’t deflate when bumped,perhaps due to the longer ferment.I hand kneaded in the meat( cubed salami,sauteed lightly) and grated gouda before proofing, some did break the surface.I have soo many pans, mysteriously chose an 8″ cake pan? Realizing it looked too small, I used a 9″ cake pan!( woe is me)I pushed the dough down into the pan to spread it evenly .but one side rose higher than the other.It actually doubled in 45 minutes! I think the 2+ hour sponge caused that.
    The recipe called for a 40-50 minute bake at 350, 325 for smaller ones in bags.
    After 50 minutes the bread registered 192 degrees.
    @Adam, I also noticed that 3/4 cup of cheese is not the same as 6oz of cheese by weight!I shredded the 6oz chunk and got 2 cups of grated cheese.
    PR should have noted that.But I did use a full cup.
    Tis is the first time i made this ,and enjoyed it! Chris’ version will be next time I make this.
    I gave half away and my wife took a 1/4 to her pottery class,(otherwise I’ll be 300 lbs by December!)their response:keep the bread coming!
    Here are some photos

  4. jim Says:

    It didn’t load,try again.

  5. jim Says:

    Seems to be a problem today! here’s a link to my photo on fb

  6. Coz Says:

    Chris, everything you did was so informative. I was wondering what meat and cheeses I should do and you have sold me on pepperoni for sure! Do you have some more ideas of what to bake this bread in beside free standing or the can and bag. I’ve never made this and if I don’t come up with a can I need a plan B. I love the tips on cutting the cheese in chunks and adding the meat and cheese towards the end. I’m excited to get baking mine!!

  7. DJ Says:

    Hey Everyone!
    So I’m a vegetarian so I’ll have to do this bread without meat. I don’t wanna use tofu and I don’t like the veggie bacon very much. Does anyone have any creative ideas to use in place of the meat? I plan on using gruyère cheese.

  8. Chris Says:

    DJ –

    I’m a voracious meat eater, but fellow BBACer Adam is a vegetarian. Once he sees this he’ll surely throw out some suggestions (at least insofar as he will make the substitution himself)! I’ll email him to direct him to your question, just in case he might miss it.

  9. NancyB Says:

    @DJ: how about some good Kalamata olives? O just do a blend of interesting cheeses, maybe even a smoked variety.

  10. Adam Says:

    @DJ: I used vegetarian chorizo sausage that the local health food store had. It turned out great and the meat-eaters that I gave the bread to didn’t even notice. I just crisped it in a little olive oil and added it when the recipe said. With grueyre that might be a bit much, but my store also had some apple-sage vegetarian sausage links. Those would be great with gruyere.

  11. DJ Says:

    Thanks for the suggestions everyone!! Hey Adam I’m glad there’s another vegetarian out there with me. I believe the only other bread that has meat in the entire book is the corn bread so it’s not so bad. Hopefully I’ll have my bread done soon but it looks like I’ll once again be a few days behind everyone else.

  12. Coz Says:

    I got my bread done! I ended up getting a #10 can and used a grocery bag. I have the pictures here. Mine took a long time to bake though. It was a lot of dough to shove in that can. Can’t wait to see everyone else’s pictures!

  13. Adam Says:

    Neat picture, Coz! I was too scared of whatever chemicals they’re using in grocery bag production to use brown paper bags. My post is finally up here:

  14. Joanne Says:

    Hey there, breads are looking good. I have been busy since my goats decided to have their kids this weekend. I am actually nursing one back to health in my living room, which is requiring a lot of my attention. I will probably wait till this weekend and make the Casatiello and next weeks bread too. Just one of those things…


  15. Paul M Says:

    I finally got to making this bread. The oven spring was huge (almost doubled the bread height) but I was disappointed in the crumb. I don’t know if I degassed it too much during shaping or what. It turned out very much like the brioche from last week. The aroma and taste were good but the crumb was too fine grained.

  16. Paul M Says:

    Here is a crumb shot.

  17. DJ Says:

    Hey everyone! I also finally got this bread done today. I had a few issues that I explain on my blog so go check it out :)

  18. Coz Says:

    Hi Paul and DJ, I think your breads look nice :)

  19. Geraint Says:

    My Casatiello pics are now up at

    My local deli had two types of provolone, dolce & piccante; I went with the latter. I chose Salami di Milano because this is described as a savoury panettone & panettone originates from Milan (there was so much choice I had to have some rationale to guide me!). I took Chris’ notes on board and cubed the cheese as well as the meat.

    I had some issues making this bread. I made the dough late last night & retarded overnight in the fridge. In 8 hours the dough had at least tripled in size – & probably overfermented. The dough was stiff & I had to be careful while shaping not to tear the surface. It didn’t quite double in (second) proof although I gave it 3hrs, the latter 1.5 hours in the oven with light on & with boiling water in a tray to prevent a crust forming, so around 35c (95F). I baked two 633g (1lb 6oz) loaves, in panettone cases I had left from Christmas, for an hour at 180c (356F). They didn’t rise a huge amount while baking – I was really hoping they would fill the cases (the panettones I baked in these cases were scaled at just over 500g (1lb)).

    I dutifully waited the hour that PR says you should before cutting the bread. With the extra proofing time, this made for rather a late lunch. It was still quite warm & the crumb texture was strange & not altogether pleasant; pappy really. Still, I managed to eat half a loaf with my Celeriac & Smoked Paprika soup! The flavours of cheese & salami were pronounced and delicious, although I did feel a tad nauseous after eating so much of it. The texture is much better now fully cooled, but still a bit cakey for my tastes. This may be a fault with MY bread rather than THE bread – Chris’ crumb, for example, looks a lot lighter. If I made this again, I think I might try shredding the cheese to see how this affects the crumb – there isn’t any cheese texture in my bread anyway, just holes where it melted.

  20. NancyB Says:

    Whoops, forgot to post here when I got my casatiello blog entry done. It’s at:
    and a few additional pictures are at Flickr:

    Summary: it was beautiful coming out of the oven but collapsed when I tried to removed it hot. Still tasted good, though!

  21. Geraint Says:

    Eating Casatiello today as a sandwich filling! (on toasted olive sourdough).

  22. Chris Says:

    Geraint –

    Sorry the cubing didn’t work out for you (hate to give bad advice!). For me, using the shredded cheese basically makes the “cheesiness” of the bread disappear. It gets the cheesy texture, but looses the taste. The cubing retains the flavoring, since the cheese bits are more concentrated, but loses the texture.

    Perhaps a mixture of both methods?

  23. Geraint Says:

    Chris – I don’t think it was bad advice, I’d just be interested to observe the difference shredding makes (this is my first ever bread incorporating cheese). The Provolone Piccante I bought was very strong flavoured, so it would be interesting to see if the flavour was dissipated by grating. I’m really not a huge fan of the texture of this bread so I also wonder how shredding/dispersing the cheese more evenly would affect this.

  24. Chris Says:

    Geraint –

    I tend to use extra sharp provolone myself, but when I was a kid I would eat that stuff like candy, so the “wang” that it has doesn’t bother me at all – the more I get attacked by it, the better! Since I’ve done the shredding method before, I can tell you it will certainly disperse the cheese – so evenly in fact that you can’t detect it anywhere – it just fades into the background flavor in a way. You can’t see it in the crumb at all.

    Funny enough, Carol Field has you add three cheeses which may be a bit much, but if I remember she adds gruyere, provolone and parmesan reggiano (I think).

  25. Geraint Says:

    Chris – must say, I’m quite envious of your childhood ‘foodie’ experiences!

  26. Joanne Says:

    Well I finished mine today, and will try to get my blog of the process up tomorrow. I have done something similar to this bread using a very lean dough, which I really enjoyed. This was entirely different. The crust was like a really flaky pie crust or pastry, in a way. It was very good, but it just seems like so many calories when you add all that extra butter in. At least the eggs add vitamins and protein, so I didn’t mind that so much. Overall I really enjoyed the flavor and texture of this bread, and with the salami and extra sharp cheddar it just made it a really nice snacking bread. I am wondering if this would make a nice bread to go with a vegetable beef soup or even just broth. I’ll let you know when I have posted to my blog.

    BTW, just to let you all know I have enjoyed looking at your pictures and reading your blogs. I will try to catch up this week so that I am on the same schedule as you are.


  27. Joanne Says:

    Just posted to my blog.

  28. Geraint Says:

    Casatiello keeps really well: just finishing mine off 12 days after I made it.

  29. Joanne Says:

    I had put it in the freezer, sliced up, and accidentally took the last section out last night to thaw. Made good toast this morning though! I’m thinking of making this with my next loaf of sourdough, because I do prefer lean breads I would just adjust the recipe to put the meat and cheese in, and maybe a little bit of oil/butter in the dough to soften it a little.

  30. Judy Says:

    Ahh, Italian food. Unsurprisingly, my eldest daughter who loves Italian food loves this bread. I made sure to make it on a weekend when she was home so she could taste it fresh out of the oven. I used the salami and provolone as in the book. Being a novice baker I am trying to stick close to the book so I know what the bread is supposed to be like since I have never heard of many of the breads. What my daughter didn’t take back to college with her I toasted and dipped in marinara sauce. Delicious!

  31. Joanne Jones Says:

    I liked this bread too. Pizza is a favorite food around here, so it’s not surprising that my husband and I liked this. Really should make it again….

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)