Casatiello – Neapolitan Easter Bread

Casatiello is a traditional Easter celebratory special bread of Naples. It is a rich brioche type of dough made with eggs and butter that is studded throughout with cheese and salami. It is a bread that celebrates the end of lent, and each bite tells of the celebration of the rebirth of Christ. Historically, the use of milk, eggs and sheep cheese reflect the birth of Christ in the manger with the farm animals. The traditional way to prepare this bread is to top it with eggs that are secured with crosses of bread dough, though I eliminate this step as I prefer to leave the bread simple in order to slice it easier. This bread was often prepared for La Pasquetta, or Easter Monday when Italians take to the countryside for picnics with friends and family. We have a similar bread we make for Easter in Umbria called Crescia that uses only Pecorino cheese. Although both the Casatiello and the Crescia used to be prepared just at Easter, they can now be found year round in many bakeries in certain regions of Italy.

For my Casatiello, I used grated Pecorino Romano, and Fontina as my cheese selection, and used a soppressata for my meat. I’ve seen this bread made with a variety of cheeses, and though some type of salami is usually included, I’ve also seen mortadella, and even pancetta included in some versions. I actually made this bread a couple of times recently as the first time I made it I served it to guests and never managed to get a photo of the two loaves before I sliced them. This week, I decided instead of baking two large loaves, I would bake one large loaf and then a number of smaller ones as seen in my photos. For the larger loaves, two (2 quart) souffle dishes work perfectly. I used one large souffle, dish and six small ones and really love the smaller loaves.

Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2013

Casatiello

Ingredients:

For The Sponge:

  • 5 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon Sugar
  • 1 1/4 Cups Warm Water
  • 4 Large Egg Yolks
  • 2 1/2 Cups All-purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt

For The Bread:

  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • About 4 1/2 Cups All-purpose Flour
  • 2 Sticks (1 Cup) Unsalted Butter, Softened
  • 2 Ounces Grated Pecorino Cheese
  • 5 Ounces Diced Fontina or Asiago Cheese
  • 5 Ounces Diced Soppressata or Salami

Directions:

  1. For the sponge, mix together the yeast, sugar and warm water in a bowl, and let rest 10 minutes.
  2. Add the egg yolks and whisk until smooth.
  3. Stir in the flour and salt, and stir until well blended.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm spot in your kitchen for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until blended, then add the salt and a cup of flour.
  6. Mix well, then add the sponge, working it into the egg mixture.
  7. Add the rest of the flour, butter, cheese and meat and mix until you have a shaggy dough.
  8. Dump the mixture onto a lightly floured counter, and knead by hand until the dough is smooth, about 8 minutes, using a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.
  9. Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  10. Let the dough sit in a warm spot until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
  11. Lightly butter two (2 quart) souffle dishes. (or 1 (2 quart) souffle dish and 6 smaller ones as I did)
  12. Divide the dough into two and use your hands to shape into balls and place the balls into the prepared dishes. (the dough should fill the dishes about halfway)
  13. Cover with clean kitchen towels and let rise until the bread rises above the top of the dishes, about 1 1/2 hours.
  14. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  15. Bake the larger loaves for 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature taken using a thermometer reaches 190 degrees F.
  16. If using smaller dishes as I did in my photos, bake for 32 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F.
  17. Let the breads cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn the breads out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  18. The bread keeps well if wrapped in plastic wrap for a few days.

Adated from The Italian Baker by Carol Field