There is an old adage that goes something like “Pork fat rules.” I tend to think that if a maxim has been repeated ad infinitum there is usually a reason it got to be that way. Take this Casatiello, for example. It’s an Italian variant of brioche of Neopolitan origin: a little less eggy, studded with meat and chcese, raised sky-high with yeast. Traditionally, the Casatiello is an Easter bread made with lard or oil, filled with cheese, and garnished with salami. A bread filled with meat and cheese? I knew this would be a recipe we would love. Some variants even have hard cooked eggs worked into the top of the crust. (No thanks). As I learned post-baking, it’s also traditionally baked in a tube pan. (n.b. Next time use the tube pan. No need to make a parchment collar!)
Reinhart, in his version of Casatiello, brings butter into the picture. Another two sticks, please! Much to my deep satisfaction, however, he suggests that to maximize flavor the meat used to fill the bread can be crisped and the fat rendered. The fat may replace butter. I was very excited about this. As a good Southern girl, my grandfather showed me how to extract every ounce of grease from bacon. I might be a professional at this. So, my 4 ounces of pepperoni yielded just shy of a quarter cup of fat. I wouldn’t need that extra quarter cup of butter! Excellent. I was glad, as I had hedged my bets on getting as much fat out of the meat and only set two sticks of butter out to come to room temperature overnight.
So, I began by making the sponge, of a tablespoon (!) of yeast, some whole milk, and some flour. It was very wet.
While this rested for an hour, I set upon my task of preparing the fillings. I grated the cheese and cubed the pepperoni. I placed the cubes in a skillet and turned the burner on medium low. A key to rendering fat is that you want to cook your meat slowly. I let the meat heat and begin releasing fat. I kept a small prep bowl next to the pan. As the fat collected in the pan, I poured it off. I poured off the fat three or four times before the meat was very brown and crisp. I removed the meat to a plate with a papertowel to drain and surveyed my work. Not bad.
At this point, the sponge was doubled. It was bubbly and frothy. I mixed my remaining dry ingredients together, then added my eggs (room temperature, of course) and sponge. “Coarse ball” was Reinhart’s description, and that is exactly what I got. Not very moist here. I let the dough rest as directed, then began mixing my butter in. I used the same techinique as with my brioche, spreading and folding the soft butter over and into the dough. As more and more butter worked into the dough, it became softer. I added my rendered fat after all the butter was mixed in. It was still very difficult to stir, and I occasionally floured my hands and used them to work the dough. I did not want to use my hands often or long, as there was quite a bit of butter in the dough. I mixed well, for about 15 minutes, and finally had a free-form ball.
At this point, I kneaded in my meat and cheese, oiled a bowl, and let the dough ferment. I went out to lunch and ran errands, so the inital fermentation ran long – maybe 2 1/2 hours. When I came back, the dough was well-risen and ready to be shaped and proofed. I made a parchment collar for an 8″ cake pan, formed the dough into a boule, and let it proof until the top reached the top of the collar. This took the full 90 minutes.
I then baked the bread according to Reinhart’s instructions. It took the bread about 50-55 minutes to reach the appropriate internal temperature (190º). It had a wonderful oven spring. I wish I had used a second pan in the oven, filled with water, to achieve a better and darker crust. The steam would have darkened the crust a bit more and made it crisper. After baking, I removed bread to racks to cool.
Oh, hello, Husband. So nice of you to pop up when the bread is ready.
We cut the bread, and it was delicious. The grated cheese gave the entire loaf a gentle tang, and the pork fat lent a deep, salty flavor to the dough, also. The bits of meat were delightful. Aside from the bagels, about which we are passionate, this is our favorite bread of the challenge. The crumb is dense and cakey, and the bread has and incredible depth of flavor. This one definitely becomes part of the regular rotation.
This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.