I mean ever. Every now and then the memory of it would resurface from culinary school days. One evening, Chef Peter asked if I would like to make a bread called Casatiello. It was clear from the glimmer in his eye and the sense of anticipation in his question that the right answer was yes. He handed me his recipe, then took me off with him to raid other kitchens for some sausage (we found andouille in the butchery kitchen) and cheese (provolone, garde manger). I felt like a pirate. Well, maybe the pirate’s apprentice.
At any rate, while I was cooking the andouille and letting it cool, Chef Peter went off and found me a paper bag in which to bake the bread, explaining that was how it was traditionally baked in Italy. And when I say paper bag, it was literally a grocery store paper bag – Safeway, I believe. What freaking fun.
I mixed the dough, which was somewhat reminiscent of brioche, studded it generously with sausage and cheese, proofed it up, shaped it, and dropped it into the oiled bag to proof for the last time. It emerged from the oven looking like nothing I had ever seen in a bread. It was enormous – sort of like a beach ball with one flat side. As I peeled the paper bag away, I was amazed by how light the loaf felt. All those heavy ingredients, yet I could feel a tender airiness to the loaf. Chef Peter was standing alongside, grinning. So far so good. And then I cut into it. The aroma that was released made me gasp. And the bread – it was like opening a treasure chest and finding gleaming jewels inside. Only better. Hunks of spicy andouille and shining globs of molten provolone were suspended in a golden, light web. Chef Peter continued grinning, his eyebrows rose up, his eyes got really big. I cut him the first piece, he took a bite, then shouted to the rest of the class, “People! (He always referred to us as “people.”) Come on over here! You’ve gotta taste this!” It wasn’t gone in 60 seconds, but close.
The most recent contest theme on food52.com was “your best dish with meat as a flavoring.” I decided it was time for a trip down memory lane. In The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Chef Peter describes Casatiello as “a rich, dreamy Italian elaboration of brioche, ” which it certainly is. I tweaked his recipe in the book to more closely resemble the lusty version I remember making that night. I used a spicy capicola, provolone, and much more of both than the recipe calls for. I omitted one egg and used olive oil instead of butter because I had a feeling it would silken the dough nicely and pair well with the capicola and provolone. And I added some fried sage leaves because I was going to sauté the capicola, and my sage needed a trim. But I did bake it in a paper bag.
Makes 1 generous loaf
FOR THE SPONGE:
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (or one tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon instant)
- 10 ounces warm milk
- 1/2 cup bread flour
FOR THE DOUGH:
- 8 ounces capicola (or other cured meat), 1/2″ cubes
- 8 ounces provolone, 1/2″ cubes (Gruyère would work, too)
- 12 whole sage leaves
- 3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 egg, whisked
- 4 ounces olive oil
- First make the sponge. The sponge is going to grow a great big yeast population to lift the weighty ingredients in the dough. It will do it very fast, faster than if it had to start from scratch, so to speak in the dough itself. There is enough fat in the dough that it makes it difficult for yeast to access water readily in order to reproduce. So we grow a large population first so that there is simply more of it by the time it gets to the dough. Pour the warm milk into the bowl of a mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over it, then whisk it in. Add the flour and whisk to blend. Cover with plastic and allow to proof at room temperature for an hour. It will rise up fantastically in that time.
- While the sponge is proofing, sauté the capicola. Warm a skillet with tablespoon or so of olive oil added over medium heat, then add the capicola. It’s fine if it crisps a bit on the edges, but it shouldn’t overcook, or it will be tough once baked into the bread. Remove it to a plate lined with paper towels. Fry the sage leaves in the rendered fat until they are nicely crisped. Remove to the same plate.
- Remove the plastic from the bowl and set it aside; you will use it again. To mix the dough, fit the hook to the mixer. Add the flour, salt, sugar, egg, and olive oil. Begin mixing. The dough will come together quickly and leave the sides and bottom of the bowl, continue kneading for about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and pull off a walnut-sized piece of dough. Round it up briefly between your palms, then gently tease it down over your fingertips. You want to see if it forms a “windowpane,” which will tell you if you have adequately developed the gluten in the flour. If the dough tears before becoming nice and thin, it needs more kneading. Continue kneading in two or three-minute increments until the dough forms a good, strong windowpane.
- At that point, add the meat, cheese, and sage leaves and knead until most are incorporated throughout the dough. Add the sage leaves whole; once fried, they become very fragile, and the kneading action will fragment them. Turn the dough out onto your board and knead in the reluctant pieces of capicola and provolone.
- You can oil or pan spray the bowl, but honestly, the dough is so silken with olive oil that it isn’t going to stick to anything. Cover the bowl again with your piece of plastic. Let dough proof at room temperature until you can poke it gently, and it retains the indentation. If it springs back, it needs to proof some more. As mentioned, this is a heavy dough, so it may take an hour-and-a-half to proof, depending on how warm your kitchen is at any given time of the year. Being summer, a warm kitchen is no problem now, and our dough proofed in just over an hour.
- You don’t have to use a paper bag or mold to bake it, though it makes a
great story if you do; a n 8″ or 9″ round cake pan will do nicely as well. Whichever you decide to use, oil or pan spray it. If you are using paper, set it on a baking sheet. Gently turn the dough out of the bowl. Shape it into a round ball, and set it in your baking form. Drape the piece of plastic over it and
allow it to proof again until it retains the indentation of your finger, about an hour.
- While the bread is proofing, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. You don’t need to score this bread before baking it. Set the pan or the baking sheet in the oven. and bake for 45 minutes, rotating it at the halfway point. When done, the dough should register 185 degrees on a thermometer. Be sure to take the temperature at the center.
- When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing. Casatiello is definitely best when warm, and it makes the best toast you’ll ever taste.
Once my huge loaf was cooled completely, I cut it into quarters. While I would love nothing more than to eat the entire thing all by my self, that just wouldn’t be a good idea. I wrapped them in plastic and set one aside for myself. The others I’ll give away. I owe Cathy thanks for her farm eggs, one of which went into this, and I suspect I can find takers for the other two. I love the idea of exposing a new generation to Casatiello.