Mi Casatiello Es Su Casatiello

Casatiello - Open Crumb

I was a bit leery of the BBA Casatiello to begin with.  I’m not a huge meat-in-bread fan, so I wasn’t sure I would like this bread.  I’ll spare you the anticipation and tell you that this is far and away my favorite BBA Challenge bread so far!

Up ’til now, I have followed the BBA recipes pretty much to the letter. But five recipes in, and I’ve gone astray. I don’t eat salami, so right off the bat I had to make some changes (I’m not one of those crazy generous souls who bakes bread for everyone but me to eat). And I wanted to use my sourdough starter in place of the sponge. And substitute buttermilk powder for the milk. And of course choose my own cheese.  Oh, and I didn’t have any unsalted butter on-hand, so I decided to use salted butter and adjust the salt in the recipe. So, what started out as a small departure from the recipe became a bunch of changes that added up to my own version of Casatiello.

Given all the changes I was making, I knew two things.  First, I had to take good notes if I was to have any chance of remembering (and possibly recreating) what I had done.  And second, if this bread was a colossal failure, I would have no idea why.

Probably the biggest change, and the one most likely to cause problems, was substituting sourdough starter for the sponge.  I pondered how to do this, and came up with the following:  I would use 16 ounces of a 100% hydration starter, which would equal 8 ounces of flour (leaving 10.25 ounces to add later) and the entire 8 ounces of liquid. PR’s recipe calls for 8 ounces of milk or buttermilk, but this was no problem, as I was planning on substituting buttermilk powder anyway. So I spent a day or two before I started baking feeding up my starter to just over 16 ounces, so I would have enough for the bread and a little bit to keep.

As far as the salami goes, I decided to substitute all-beef Lebanon bologna. It has a taste similar, but far superior, to salami, and my family loves it.  And the cheese? Well, I didn’t bother to pick up cheese at the store, since we eat cheese like it’s our job around here, and we always have a drawerful in the fridge. I sorted through my choices, and decided to use a mix of three cheeses:  muenster, provolone, and just a touch of a hard, white, very sharp cheese that I’m not sure exactly what it was because it wasn’t in a wrapper. I think it might have been Parmigiano-Reggiano. As indicated in the recipe, I cut up and sauteed the bologna, and shredded the cheese.

Casatiello - Lebanon bologna and cheese

Before I began mixing the recipe, I did my mise en place.  I try to do that for most recipes, although I admit to not always taking the time.  This time I felt it was important, since I was changing around a lot of things and it would be easy to forget something.

Casatiello mis en place

I started by putting 10.25 ounces of flour, the salt, yeast, and 4 tablespoons of buttermilk powder into the mixer bowl.  I mixed the dry ingredients on speed 1 with the paddle attachment just enough to stir them together.  Then I added the eggs and sourdough starter and mixed on medium speed (4) for a minute or so. 

Casatiello first mix

After a 10-minute rest, I added the butter 1/4 at a time and mixed well between each addition. Then I mixed the whole thing for 12 minutes, switching from the paddle attachment to the dough hook (which I sprayed with pan spray) after 4 minutes. The dough started out very sticky, clinging to the side of the bowl and the paddle. I was sure I would have to add flour before I was done. By the 4-minute mark, it had started to come together. And within a few minutes of switching to the dough hook, it really came together, just like the recipe said it would (imagine that!).

By the end of the mixing period, the dough was very tacky but not sticky, so I added the meat. Having had trouble kneading in add-ins with the dough hook in the past, I took the bowl off the mixer and folded in the meat with my bench scraper. Once I got the meat worked in, I did the same with the cheese. Then I put the bowl back on the mixer and gave it another minute on low to finish it off. 

After mixing in the meat and cheese, the dough was back to being sticky again, and I once again thought about adding flour.  However, I decided against it, because I really wanted to see how it would turn out without the addition of flour, and because I was planning to retard the dough overnight and figured it would firm up in the fridge. Here is the dough, ready for a long, cool ferment:

Casatiello - ready for retarding

By morning, the dough had risen but not quite doubled. I took it out of the fridge and let it rest for an hour or so. After reading all the options for baking it — in a loaf pan, paper bag, or cake pan — I decided to do something completely different, and do a free-form boule.  So I shaped the dough and put it into a banneton to proof.

Casatiello in banneton

While it was proofing, I re-read the baking instructions and came across this phrase: “…the cheese will ooze out into crisp little brown pockets.”  I began to rethink the boule idea, as I had visions of cheese “oozing out” on my baking stone and the bottom of my oven. One of the options for baking given in the recipe is to use an 8-inch cake pan. I have a round 8-inch stoneware cake pan, and I could tell by looking at it that the dough as shaped would fit neatly into it.  So, after the 90-minute proof, I gently lifted the dough from the banneton and inverted it into the cake pan, which I had sprayed with pan spray.

The dough had risen some, but not as much as it seemed like it should.  Nonetheless, I decided to go ahead and bake it. In retrospect, I realize that it should have proofed longer, as the dough was still cold from the fridge. 

I baked the bread for 20 minutes at 350, then rotated the pan and inserted a probe thermometer. To my surprise, the dough was only at 65 degrees. I left the probe thermometer in the bread and put it back in the oven. I realized it would take longer than the recipe called for, so after about 15 minutes, I tented the loaf with foil to keep it from getting over-browned. I didn’t pay attention to how long the loaf took to reach 185 degrees, but it was probably close to an hour and a half.

What the dough lacked in final rise, it more than made up for in oven spring.

Casatiello - Monster Oven Spring!

And the smell! Oh, man, it was amazing. It almost killed me to wait an hour before cutting into this loaf, but wait I did. And it was more than worth it.

Casatiello - sliced

The crumb was soft and open, with lots of holes. The eggs and butter gave it a beautiful golden color. And the Lebanon bologna was delicious but not overpowering. All in all, an excellent loaf of bread and one that I will make again and again.

Prosciutto/Lebanon Bologna Bread {ModBak}

The next recipe I tackled in the Breads section of the Modern Baker Challenge was Prosciutto Bread. I have committed myself to baking all the recipe in the book, so there was no escaping this one, but it did present a dilemma. I don’t eat pork products, so I was left with the choice between making a bread I couldn’t eat or finding a substitution for the prosciutto. Faced with a similar problem during the BBA Challenge when baking Casatiello, I used Lebanon bologna in place of salami with great results. So I decided to do the same thing here, substituting Seltzer’s Beef Lebanon Bologna for the prosciutto.

If you’ve never had Lebanon bologna, it is similar to trail bologna — smoky and slightly sweet. But unlike trail bologna, it is the size of regular bologna and is usually sliced thin for sandwiches. One of my family’s favorite ways to eat Lebanon bologna is to fry the slices briefly in a skillet then eat them on a sandwich.

Other than the addition of meat to the dough, this is a fairly straightforward enriched bread that consists of flour, salt, sugar, ground black pepper, yeast, water, and olive oil. I recalled that when Kayte baked this recipe, she observed that the bread was too salty. Lebanon bologna isn’t as heavily salted as prosciutto, but it is still fairly salty, so I cut the salt in the recipe back from 1 1/2 teaspoons to a scant teaspoon. The amount of pepper — 1 tablespoon — seemed like a lot to me, but I went with it, grinding pepper into a tablespoon measure before adding it to the rest of the dry ingredients.

The main thing that distinguished this bread from Casatiello was that the Prosciutto Bread doesn’t have any cheese in it. I was a bit leery of this, as the gooey cheesiness was one of the things that made the Casatiello one of my favorite recipes in the BBA Challenge. But I wanted to stay as true to the recipe as I could, so I made it without cheese.

After mixing the dry ingredients, I combined the water, yeast, and oil in a measuring cup, then added them to the dry ingredients and mixed until the dough was evenly moistened. I then folded in the Lebanon bologna. After a brief autolyse, I folded the dough in the bowl with a bench scraper about 20 times. Then I put the dough in an oiled bowl to ferment.

The dough took about an hour and a half to double. The recipe suggests shaping the dough into batards but also gives the option of making braided loaves. I decided to do one of each. I shaped half the dough into a batard, then divided the remaining dough into two pieces and did a two-strand braid.

The dough proofed for almost two hours, until it doubled. Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 400° F.

I baked the loaves for 30 minutes — the recipe says 40 — at which time the internal temperature was 195° F and the crust was golden brown. The bread smelled amazing while it baked: there is nothing like the smell of Lebanon bologna while it cooks. It reminded me of Casatiello, and I was really excited to try it.

I let the loaves cool for a few minutes before slicing into the braid. The crumb was soft and studded with bits of meat.

I eagerly grabbed a slice of bread, slathered it with lightly salted cultured butter, and took a bite. It was good. A bit too peppery, but otherwise really good. I ate about five slices for dinner and was perfectly satisfied.

But it did seem like there was something missing. Then it occurred to me — it needed a slice of cheese. So in the end, it was almost as good as Casatiello and might have been just as good if, like the BBA bread, it had cheese added to it.

Moral of the story:  if you’re going to add meat to bread, you might as well add cheese, too.

Potatoes and Cheddar and Chives — Oh, My!

Having recently baked one really good (Vienna), two so-so (Pain de Mie and Whole Wheat), and one yuck (Tuscan) breads in the past few weeks, I had high hopes for the 42nd and next-to-last recipe in the BBA Challenge, Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedoes. In fact, I will admit to expecting a lot out of the last two recipes in the book. After months of baking, with mostly great results and only a few duds, I really hope to go out with a bang here. And if this bread is any indication, PR will not disappoint.

One of the interesting things about this bread is that it uses both sourdough starter and yeast to leaven the bread. The sourdough starter (which PR incorrectly refers to as a “barm”) is built from the Mother Starter. The recipe requires 10.5 ounces of starter. The starter recipe, on the other hand, yields 39 ounces. Time for baker’s math again. By using 1.9 ounces of starter and 4.3 ounces each of flour and water, I ended up with exactly 10.5 ounces of 100% hydration starter for the recipe.

I prepared my starter the evening before I planned to bake and let it sit out at room temperature overnight. The next day, I chopped and boiled Yukon gold potatoes, then let the potatoes and potato water cool to room temperature. I decided to use Yukon gold, as I thought they would give the crumb a nice color. While the potatoes and water were cooling, I chopped the chives and assembled my mise en place.

I bought the chives in a small package at the grocery store. When I got them home and started chopping them, I realized that my $2.59 got me only 2/3 ounce of chives. And by the time I culled out the bad ones, I had about 1/2 ounce left! It killed me to realize that within a few months I’ll have chives coming out my ears in the garden. In fact, the chives often poke out through the snow early in the Spring.

OK, enough of my chive rant, back to the bread. I mixed 1/2 of the flour, 1/2 cup of the potato water, the potatoes, yeast, and starter just until the flour was hydrated. I allowed this “shag” to sit for about half an hour.

Then I added the rest of the flour, the salt, and just under 1/2  cup of potato water and kneaded the dough for about six minutes with my Kitchen Aid. I added the chives and mixed another two minutes. The dough was very tacky, bordering on sticky. I put it in an oiled bowl and turned it to coat the dough with oil.

After a 90-minute ferment, the dough had more than doubled in size.

I dumped the dough out onto my Roul’Pat, divided it in half, and patted one half into a rectangle. I layed out half of the cheddar cheese on the dough, leaving the edges uncovered.

I rolled the dough into a batard, sealed the edges, then tapered the ends to make a torpedo shape. Then I repeated this with the second loaf.

I misted the torpedoes with spray oil, covered them with a towel, and allowed them to rest for one hour. About 15 minutes into the proofing period, I began preheating my oven to 500 dF with a steam pan on the bottom shelf.

Just before loading the bread into the oven, I boiled some water and slashed the loaves, being sure to cut down to the first layer of cheese.

I was a little nervous about this part. I’m a pretty good slasher, but I have never worried too much about the depth of my cuts. I was afraid they would be too shallow and require a second or third slash to get down to the cheese. I needn’t have worried. As you can see, one slash was all it took, and they were ready to bake.

I loaded the loaves into the oven, poured a cup of boiling water into the steam pan, closed the oven door, and reduced the temperature to 450 dF. I don’t bother with spraying the oven walls at 30-second intervals, as I can’t discern any difference in the loaves one way or the other. I think the steam pan works fine for creating the proper amount of steam in the oven.

I baked the loaves for about 20 minutes and rotated them 180 degrees. I inserted a probe thermometer into one of the loaves, and was surprised to find that it was already over 200 degrees in the center. The recipe said the torpedoes would take 35 to 40 minutes to bake, but mine were done after 20 minutes.

The loaves looked and smelled amazing. The cheddar bubbling out through the slashes was especially striking.

I honestly wasn’t sure if I could wait 45 minutes before slicing into this bread. But wait I did. When I sliced the first torpedo, the crumb, with its spiral of sharp cheddar cheese, was as beautiful and enticing as the loaf had been coming out of the oven.

And the flavor? Well, let’s just say that I finished half the loaf standing in the kitchen before I thought to offer any to the rest of the family. I had more this afternoon toasted. It was like eating the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever tasted right out of the toaster.

This was easily my favorite bread in the past few months of the BBA Challenge. In fact, it ranks up there with Casatiello as one of the top breads in the book!

Up next: Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche, the final bread in the Challenge.

A (Mise En) Place for Everything

Has this ever happened to you: You’re in the middle of cooking dinner, and you open the cupboard to reach for an herb or spice only to find that you’re out of it? Or you cut into the bread or cake you just baked, only to realize that you forgot to add a key ingredient? It’s happened to me more times than I care to admit. The worst is when you don’t realize you omitted an ingredient until you serve whatever it is you made to company and it just doesn’t taste right.

I used to think the occasional disaster was just the cost of doing business when it came to cooking and baking, but I’ve recently learned that these kitchen catastrophes can quite easily be avoided. How? By using mise en place. That may sound like an intimidating and highly-technical skill only available to the trained chef. And, indeed, professional chefs use this technique. But it’s actually quite simple to learn and understand, easy to use, and can transform your cooking and baking more than any other single cooking skill.

So what is this strange-sounding technique?  Mise en place (pronounced MEES ahn plahs), literally “put in place” but more commonly translated “everything in place”, is a French cooking term, which simply refers to assembling all of your ingredients and equipment before you begin cooking. You read through your recipe, get out all your ingredients, measure, wash, chop, toast, bring to room temperature, etc., and get all of your pots, pans, bowls, utensils, and other equipment ready.

Casatiello mise en place 

Sounds easy enough, right? It really is. So why go through the extra step, not to mention dirtying the additional bowls and containers, to have everything laid out like a TV cooking show? Simple. Because it’s transformational, in several ways. First, you will avoid those unpleasant surprises, where you reach for an ingredient you always keep on-hand, only to realize you’re out of it. Next, you won’t find yourself knee-deep in a sauce that needs to be stirred constantly, only to realize you need to peel and chop the next three ingredients. Also, you will be familiar with the recipe, so there won’t be any other surprises (like needing a piece of equipment you don’t have, or having to stop and Google a technique you aren’t familiar with).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, by familiarizing yourself with the recipe and having everything you need at hand and ready to go, you will cook and bake with a whole new level of confidence and ease that you never knew possible. This last point is almost impossible to overstate, but it’s also something you have to experience to really appreciate. By having everything you need ready to go, you really will feel like a professional chef.

So hopefully mise en place doesn’t seem like such  mystery now. Give it a try the next time you cook or bake; you’ll see what I mean.