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Italian Lard Bread

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    Posted: 19 July 2018 at 09:26
You never know when a traditional recipe will pop up out of nowhere. For example, I was talking to a co-worker, and he mentioned that, when he lived in Florida, every time a friend of his went to New York he brought back some Lard Bread. I had never heard of it, so did some research.

Apparently, it’s a traditional Easter bread from Naples, where it’s called Casatiello. It’s a filled bread, usually using prosciutto, pancetta, or even salami, and sometimes cheese. The dough is formed in a ring mold, and allowed to rise. Raw eggs are then pushed in to the surface, and strips of dough used to criss-cross the eggs. The whole thing is then baked. Makes for a very dramatic presentation.

This apparently grew out of an earlier rural bread, baked at hog-killing time. The lard would be rendered out, and the cracklings tossed into the dough, along with cheese. A tail-to-snout use of the pig typical of rural dwellers.

Now we jump ahead to the Italian neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Bakers there sort of reinvented it. The filled dough is shaped into a log, which is twisted, then shaped in a ring, and baked. Not as dramatic, but, perhaps, closer to the bread’s roots. As such, it apparently developed a cult following, and those in the know would either pick some up when in New York, or have it shipped to wherever they were. For marketing reasons, many bakers now call it Prosciutto Bread, rather than the original Lard Bread.

Obviously, there are numerous variations on this theme. For instance, a recipe provided by the Italian Trade Commission uses salami and two different cheeses in the filling. One recipe for the Casatiello calls for mixed cured meats, and cheeses. Etc. There’s even at least one version that adds rosemary to the mix.

I haven’t made it, yet. But wanted to get a thread started so anyone familiar with this bread can add notes and comments as we go along.

For my first attempt, I’m going to go with the Brooklyn bakers’ approach, using a recipe adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s, The Bread Bible. This is a rather famous bread book that, ironically, I don’t own. But I was able to download it from the web. Assuming it works OK, I’ll then go on to the more dramatic Easter Bread version.

Here’s the recipe if anyone wants to join me on this exploration:

Prosciutto (Lard) Bread
2 cups plus 3 tbls bread flour
1 tbls malt powder or 1 tbls sugar
¾ tsp instant yeast
Scant ½ tsp ground black pepper
¾ tsp salt
1 cup warm water
8 oz Prosciutto, 1/8 inch thick, cut into ¼-inch dice
4 tsp lard, bacon fat, or butter, melted

Mix flour, malt powder and yeast in a stand mixer. Combine salt with flour mixture---this is done separately from the first mixing so the salt doesn’t retard the action of the yeast.

Add water and mix with dough hook onlow to moisten. Knead seven minutes on medium speed. Mix in prosciutto on low speed. Dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky. Adjust with flour or water as necessary.

Shape dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle dough with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 20 minutes.

Roll dough into an 18 inch cylinder, twist it, and form into a ring, insuring the ends stick together. Place ring on parchment paper on a large cookie sheet. Spray dough with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled for about an hour.

Prepare the oven with a steam tray on the bottom. Preheat oven to 450F and let it stand at that temperature for at least ten minutes. Transfer bread to lowest shelf in oven, and brush with about 1/3 of the melted lard. Add 1 cup of water or a half-dozen ice cubes to steam tray. Bake 15 minutes. Remove parchment paper and turn bread front to back to allow for even baking. Brush bread with an additional 1/3 of the lard. Bake 5 minutes. Reduce temperature to 400F and bake another 10 to 15 minutes.

Turn off oven and leave bread in the oven with door propped open for another 5 minutes. Remove bread from oven and brush with the remaining butter. Allow bread to cool on a rack.

I have some procedural disagreements with the recipe as presented. For instance, there is no reason to not include the salt up front. I’ll provide details of these differences after I’ve actually made the bread.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 July 2018 at 09:06
Ever notice that, sometimes, the web is covered up with a particular recipe? Somebody posts it, and, suddenly, bloggers, recipe dump sites, and other locations are reprinting it---sometimes with, more often without, attribution.

The problem with this syndrome is that the original recipe is often wrong. Ingredient amounts are off, or directions don’t make sense, or the relationship of the ingredients to each other isn’t quite right. So much so that the recipe, as it appears, doesn’t work. Yet, all those posters claim to have made the dish.

I believe such to be the case with the above recipe. As noted, I never saw Beranbaum’s, actual recipe. But, knowing what I do about her, I’d have to say something definitely got lost in translation.

I’d mentioned the salt addition earlier. Bread bakers continue to argue whether to add salt before or after adding the liquid. There is no definitive reason for adding it after the fact. In theory, it can affect the yeast activity, but I’ve never noticed that to be true.
In this case, however, the instructions are ludicrous. First you mix the dry ingredients, then add the salt, mix again, and then add the liquid. Say huh? What possible purpose does that serve?

More importantly, the flour-to-water ratio is considerably off. Following the recipe, you wind up with a very hydrated mix; more like a biga than an actual dough. I would start, instead, with 2 ½ cups of flour, and be prepared to add more; perhaps the three additional tablespoons called for in the recipe.

Assuming it was supposed to be a slack dough, I didn’t go crazy with extra flour this time around. Wound up with a workable dough, but not one so stiff as twisting the cylinder accomplished anything.

I thought, too, that the physical amount of prosciutto was a bit much. A half-pound of diced prosciutto makes a big pile, and I was afraid the ratio of meat to bread would be way off. So, for this first attempt, I cut the amount in half. But I did add two tablespoons of grated Parmesan, if only because all other recipes I examined use some cheese.

The baking directions are somewhat unclear. But, once you do figure them out, they make no sense.

What the author is saying is to set up a steam tray on the bottom of the oven. Then, on a shelf just above it, place a baking stone or use a baking sheet. Unstated, incidentally, is that the sheet should be inverted. Pre-heat the oven while the dough rises.

Now you’re ready to go, right? Well, maybe. According to the recipe, you are supposed to transfer the dough to the baking stone or sheet, brush it with 1/3 of the lard, and put ice cubes in the steam tray. All of this, mind you, while the oven door is open! Just how much heat are you going to lose doing that? Oh, and btw, as revealed later on, you are supposed to leave it on the parchment paper when you transfer the dough. You’d better, because even with added flour it’s a very slack dough, and there’s no way you can pick it up at that point.

I worked slightly differently. I brushed the dough before putting it in the oven. Then, working quickly, I transferred it to the stone, closed the door, then set up the steamer. I used water instead of ice, but that should make no never mind.

For the second half of the baking, I removed the whole tray, so as to not lose too much oven heat. Working quickly, I removed the parchment paper, turned the bread, brushed it, and got it back in the oven with a second charge of steam.

And now we come to the true test: the taste! Frankly, I can see why this bread achieved cult status. It’s quite flavorsome, albeit on the salty side. This, no doubt, comes from the prosciutto. Based on the finished bread, I likely could have used all of it, as it is not the slightest bit meat heavy. There’s a nice crust, with a beautiful color, and a soft, moist, surprisingly light, crumb.

I can easily see this bread for breakfast. A hunk of it, a handful of olives, and, perhaps, a hard cooked egg would be perfect. Essentially, the same result one would get with the Neapolitan Easter Bread. So that will be my next experiment.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 July 2018 at 08:41
This really sounds good, Brook - I'm glad that you made this post, to smooth out some of the kinks that appear to be in the recipe.

By the sounds of it, It should be a really nice bread, and for some reason I see myself enjoying a bit of this up in the mountains by a lake.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 July 2018 at 18:29
Funny you should say that, Ron.

Casaliello (Neapolitan Easter Bread), the crowning queen of lard breads, is traditionally made the Monday after Easter---in order to use up left-over meats and cheeses.

Another tradition is that Neapolitans go to picnics on that Monday. And the Casaliello is perfect for that, having all the picnic foods wrapped in one package.

Doncha just love it when a plan comes together!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 July 2018 at 08:00
There’s really something special when you can trace the permutations of what started off as a peasant dish, which got morphed into something special, and then returned to its roots.

So it is with lard bread. At hog killing time, Neapolitan farmers were big believers in the snout-to-tail philosophy. None of the pig went to waste. They would, for instance, render lard, then toss the cracklings in with bread dough, and bake that in a ring. This was the antecedent of a family of Neapolitan lard breads.

Eventually, this idea led to Casatiello, Neapolitan Easter Bread. Although every baker had their own version, the basics were the same. A mixture of cured meats and cheeses, as well as lard, was incorporated into the dough. This was formed into a ring mold, and allowed to rise again. Then eggs were nestled in the surface. Two strips of dough were used to make a cross over each egg, and the bread baked.

Even for a celebration bread, Casatiello makes a very dramatic presentation. And each element has symbolic meaning. But here’s the thing: Casatiello was, traditionally, served on the Monday after Easter, as a way of using up leftover meats and cheeses from the Easter feast. In a sense, a sophisticated version of the snout-to-tail idea.

Neapolitan bakers, when they emmigrated to America, brought that idea with them. But Casatiello is too ornate and complicated to make as an every-day bread. So it remorphed into a simple filled bread. In other words, it returned to what it was. As such, it achieved somewhat of a cult status, and, for marketing reasons, the bakers changed the name from “lard bread,” to “Prosciutto bread.”

I don’t have any Italian to speak of. So, when I looked at Italian sites for this bread all I could do was look at the pictures, and guess at the ingredients.

Apparently, that’s true of most people who have translated the recipes (or picked them up from other sites). Almost universally they either imply, or even state outright, that the water should be about half as much as the flour, by volume!

As y’all know, I normally don’t buy into that “baking is more scientific” crap, and that ingredients have to be weighed. But, in the case of this bread---or any highly hydrated one---it does matter.

Either something has gotten lost in translation, or the recipe writers don’t realize that whereas Americans tend to bake based on volume measurements, Europeans almost always weigh ingredients. Even when they use weight, it’s often incorrectly converted. For instance, a recipe might say “500g (1 lb) flour.” In fact, 500 grams is closer to 18 ounces than it is to one pound. Doesn’t seem like much, at first glance. But that’s almost a half-cup difference.

That sort of horseback conversion might work for some things. But not for a heavily hydrated bread dough. The result: I’ve had to seriously adapt the recipe I started with for the Casatiello.

I was confused, too, about the often-stated direction to use “a ring mold with detachable bottom.” At first I couldn’t figure out what that meant. But, looking at photos, I realized they were talking about the kind of mold used for Chiffon or Angel’s Food cakes. With those, the bottom and central tube lift out, so that the cake isn’t stressed when removing it. That’s what I wound up using, and it worked perfectly.

Casatiello is a low-yeast bread, that takes a long time to rise. Two hours is about right. Personally, I see no reason to change that. But for those in a rush, doubling the yeast will cut the rise times substantially.

As to the final results: If there’s a more dramatic bread presentation, I don’t know what it is. The bread comes out as a high-standing ring, looking like nothing so much as a crown. The eggs, each locked in its little cage, contribute to that look, of course. Indeed, the Casatiello looks like something Faberge would have made if he’d been a baker instead of a jeweler.

That said, in terms of flavor I actually prefer the “Brooklyn” version. The Casatiello dough is, at base, merely a vehicle for the filling. In effect, a fancy sort of sandwich. Not bad, you understand, but lacking the depth of flavor found in the dough of the Brooklyn version. For a party, or other special event, I certainly would opt for the Casatiello. But, for everyday eating, the Brooklyn version would be my choice. The eggs on the Casatiello, btw, will be slightly overcooked due to their long cooking time.

Here is the recipe I finally came up with:

Casatiello
(Neapolitan Easter Bread)


For the dough:

500g—18 oz—4 cups unbleached bread flour
100g—3 ½ oz—lard at room temperature
5ml---1 tsp instant yeast
5ml—1 tsp salt
2.5ml—1/2 tsp black pepper
100 g—3 ½ oz grated pecorino Romano cheese
350 g—1 ½ cups water

For the filling:

250-500 g—up to 1 lb mixed cured meats and cheeses, diced. I used prosciutto, soprosetta, pancetta, and provolone in roughly equal amounts, in ¼ inch dice.
5 whole eggs (medium or small sized work best)

Special equipment: A large ring mold with detachable bottom, lightly greased. Alternatively, use a spring-mold pan, with a small ring mold (or even a tin can) in the center.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle, mix together the dough ingredients. Add about a cup of the water. Balance the dough by adding more water, a spoonful at a time. Dough should be soft, tacky but not sticky, and barely hold together. Switch to the dough hook, and knead for five minutes, adjusting with flour or water as necessary.

Turn out the dough to a well-floured work surface, and, with floured hands, form it into a sooth ball. Transfer to a greased bowl, cover, and let sit in a draft-free location until doubled in bulk, about two hours.

If not done ahead, dice the meats and cheeses and toss them in a bowl, while the dough rises.

Once the dough has risen, reserve a handful of it. Transfer the balance to a well-floured work surface and spread it out in a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Spread the filling evenly over the dough surface. Keeping it as tight as you can, roll the dough into a cylinder. Shape the dough into a ring that will fit the bottom of the pan, pinch the ends together, and transfer it to the pan. Cover, set in a draft-free location, and let rise, again, until doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 180C/375F

Nestle the eggs, equally spaced, in the surface of the dough. Flatten the reserved dough, cut it into ten strips, and crisscross two strips over each egg, anchoring them to the main dough.

Bake the bread 30 minutes. Turn the mold. Back another 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown. Unmold the bread and transfer to a wire rack to cool.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 July 2018 at 09:58
I've seen this bread (or something similar) before; I thought it was associated with either Greek or possibly Ukrainian cooking, but I could easily be wrong - it is also possible, of course, that either or both have their own versions.

Since getting a scale that weighs in grams as easily as ounces, I've tried using weight more as a guideline to know that I'm close to what I want. This helps, but ultimately, it seems to me that with the breads I make, nothing substitutes for eyes and especially hands for making any final tweaks necessary.

Another bread, another entry on the list! Thank you, Brook, for delving into this ~
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