Still trying to catch up in the BBA Challenge, I baked two breads yesterday: Casatiello and Challah. I was really looking forward to the Challah. It’s a bread I “get” – rich taste, soft texture, braids; it’s got it all! On the other hand I had never heard of Casatiello and, true to human nature, I was a little wary. Maybe even a little scared. What kind of bread has cheese and meat in it? Fruit sure. Nuts, why not? But meat? I approached the endeavor cautiously but figured if Peter Reinhardt gives it a whole chapter who am I to scoff?
Compounding the complexities of making the breads I have a whole schedule of activities on Saturdays. I like to do a nice, long walk in the morning while my husband works out with his trainer at the pool. Then we rendezvous and go out for lunch. That’s usually followed by either errands and/or looking around at the bookstore or the mall. How was I going to be able to perform all the steps required after the various fermenting pauses?
Since this challenge, for me, is meant to be a learning opportunity, I decided to experiment with a combination of normal and retarded fermentation. I prepared the sponge for the Casatiello and set it out to proof. Then I quickly gathered the ingredients for the Challah, put them into the mixer and let it do it’s magic. In a few minutes, a lovely ball of dough had formed. I took it out, hand-kneaded it for a bit (just because I enjoy the feel of the dough) and set it in a bowl for it’s first fermentation. Then it was off for my walk.
It was a beautiful day here in San Diego. Hopefully, we’re finally coming out of the “June gloom.” It was just the right temperature and the park was filled with people and dogs and activities. I enjoy that feeling of getting outside, moving my body and seeing other people. Even though much of what I enjoy doing are solitary pursuits (baking, gardening, yoga, reading) I do enjoy seeing and interacting with people. It’s part of the reason I enjoy blogging. The feeling (if not always the reality) that I’m communicating with others and sharing my life.
Back from my walk and the Casatiello sponge was nicely bubbly. Time to make the dough. This is when things got a little wonky. I added the sponge and egg/milk mixture to the flour, sugar, salt mixture. It was still pretty sticky so, as the book says, I started gradually adding flour so it would form a ball. I thought I was doing this very gradually (although I’m always afraid of over-mixing). Suddenly, it seemed, the dough was a tight wad that my mixer couldn’t even mix. The dough felt really, really stiff. I had used buttermilk for the liquid and, perhaps, there was too much milk solids and not enough liquid? I decided to dribble in a little regular milk to try and de-solidify the mass. It helped some and the mixer was able to mash the dough some. It was still pretty stiff and lumpy. (I was now concerned that I had another disaster on my hands ala The Great Bagel Disaster). Undaunted I started adding the butter. Of course, since it was still a pretty stiff mass of dough the mixture was having a lot of trouble incorporating the butter. More like the outer part of the dough was getting nicely buttered while the inner part remained impervious. I decided to add a bit more milk and that seemed to help relaxing the dough enough to get the butter more-or-less in. It still looked like the buttery dough was wrapping an inner core of non-buttery dough. So I took it out and worked it by hand. Doing this I was able to get it to a state resembling a uniform bread dough. It still seemed too stiff, especially compared to the Brioche I had made the previous weekend. I actually considered just chucking the whole thing. Who cares about Casatiello? Never heard of it anyway. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. But, I figured, I’ve come this far I might as well see what happens.
I had my cheese and salami all ready. I had decided not to crisp the salami. It was a quite hard German salami and it seemed just fine the way it was. I was able to gradually incorporate all of it into the dough. As I added each handful, I kept thinking, “I’m never going to get all of this into this dough. Not gonna happen.” But, miraculously, it all got worked in. It was now a VERY stiff dough but I dutifully coated it with oil and set it out to double.
The Challah had completed it’s first rise so I took it out, briefly and softly kneaded it to degas and returned it to its bowl. I showered and dressed. Did a couple of small chores and the breads were ready for the next steps. First, I separated the Challah dough into 3 portions, shaped them into little boules and let them rest. Meanwhile, I prepared the pan for the Casatiello. I decided to use a 9″ springform pan, sprayed it with oil, lined it with parchment and a parchment collar and then sprayed everything again. I shaped the Casatiello into a boule and placed it into the pan. The Challah pieces were nicely rested by then and I shaped each piece into a a strand and braided (only later did I realize I had slightly screwed up the braiding but I decided to ignore that mistake because it still looked pretty cool).
My husband was now ready so I popped both the Casatiello and the Challah braid into the frig and we were off. We had a very pleasant afternoon and ended up buying a Wii (and a Wii fit). I’m promised that this is going to be fun. We’ll see. I was eager to get home and see how my doughs had fared in their hibernation. To my pleasant surprise, the Challah had doubled in size and looked fantastic. The Casatiello had also grown…perhaps not double but definitely a lot bigger. I decided the Challah was ready for baking and pre-heated the oven, washed it with egg whites and decorated with sesame seeds. In it went. Since the Casatiello was rock hard (the butter, I imagine, having hardened in the refrigerator) I left it to sit out on the counter and come up to room temperature.
The Challah looked great going into the oven and even better coming out!
You can see the braiding error (toward the top of the picture) but I think it just makes it look interesting (that’s what my mother used to tell me anyway).
The Casatiello had warmed to room temperature but hadn’t really changed in size so I figured, what the heck, and popped it into the oven. At this point my husband yells “let’s go in the hot tub!” Now? Now you want to go in the hot tub? I’ve got bread in the…oh what the heck, it’s probably doomed bread at this point anyway. ”Sure!” I bellow back. By the time we’re ready the Casatiello has been in the oven about 20 minutes. I rotate it and set the oven automatic turn-off for another 20 minutes. I figure it would take longer than that but by the time the oven cooled it would have plenty more baking time and, worst case, I could turn the oven back on for a bit. I realize I was asking a lot of the poor thing but one has to embrace life’s opportunities.
Off we went. I came back to the tweeting of the timer on the oven. I checked the internal temperature and it was only up to about 140. So I cranked up the oven and gave it another 15 minutes. And then another 10. And then another 10. And then maybe 5 minutes more until it finally reached 190. That thing is dense. I placed it on a rack to cool and prepared dinner.
Now I had planned that the Casatiello would mostly be dinner and I was stickin’ with the plan. (I had meanwhile tasted a snippet of the Challah which was excellent! Beautiful golden color, moist open crumb and delicious delicate flavor. Ahhh.) I knew I wanted a berry mix so I cut up strawberries and nectarines and sprinkled with a bit of sugar. Added some blueberries and topped with whipped cream (I keep one of those whipped cream canisters in the frig at all times in case of a whipped cream emergency). Then, since I felt the Casatiello would be a meal in itself, I sliced some nice tomatoes, picked some lettuce from the garden, prepared little dishes with mustard and mayo and presto! Dinner. (My husband got some extra fruit because he’s bigger.) I tentatively cut into the Casatiello expecting the worst. To my utter astonishment it looked (and smelled) heavenly! The bread was a little dense but, regardless, it tasted fantastic. The wonderful combination of cheese (I used a combination of mozzarella and Monterey Jack because that’s what I had in the house) and the German salami wrapped in the rich bread. It was a total taste explosion in my mouth. Way beyond what I was expecting so I was very pleasantly surprised.
I served up our little meal and my husband warily poked at the bread and held up the little dishes. ”What’s this?” Mustard. ”What’s this?” Mayo. I explained that the bread contained meat and cheese and I thought it would be nice to just condiment it and add some tomato. He looked dubious right up to the moment that he got a bite into his mouth. The look of sheer pleasure was well worth the effort. ”I love this honey! It’s just like a Lunchable only all together.” High praise. High praise indeed.
Coda: My husband has requested that we have some more of “that” bread with scrambled eggs tonight. The man is a genius.