One night in culinary school, Chef Peter handed me his recipe for casatiello and asked if I'd like to make it. Why yes. He procured some wonderful andouille that I used, along with great big chunks of provolone. He even got me a paper grocery bag in which to bake it, which was great fun. His recipe eventually found its way to The Bread Baker's Apprentice, where he describes it as "a rich, dreamy Italian elaboration of brioche." It's certainly that. The lusty version I remember making that night contained significantly more meat and cheese than his present one, and since the memory of its beauty and its flavor are so vivid, I'm going to hew to that. I'm also going to reduce the egg, and use olive oil instead of butter with a bow to the flavors in the capicola and provolone. And since I'll need to sauté the capicola in order to render some of its fat, and since I also have sage in need of a trim, I'm going to fry some leaves in the rendered fat and add them to the dough as well.
The recipe begins with a sponge which grows a great big yeast population in about an hour. Casatiello contains a lot of heavy ingredients, and using a sponge gives the dough a good boost and makes its rising time, which is still somewhat considerable, more reasonable.
And I'm going to bake it in a paper grocery bag. —boulangere
FOR THE SPONGE
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (or one tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon instant)
10 ounces warm milk
1/2 cup bread flour
FOR THE DOUGH
8 ounces capicola (or other cured meat), 1/2" cubes
8 ounces provolone, 1/2" cubes (Gruyère would work, too)
Pour the warm milk into the bowl of a mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over it, then whisk it in. Add the flour and whisk to blend. Cover with plastic and allow to proof at room temperature for an hour. It will rise up fantastically in that time.
While the sponge is proofing, sauté the capicola. Warm a skillet with tablespoon or so of olive oil added over medium heat, then add the capicola. It's fine if it crisps a bit on the edges, but it shouldn't overcook, or it will be tough once baked into the bread. Remove it to a plate lined with paper towels. Fry the sage leaves in the rendered fat until they are nicely crisped. Remove to the same plate.
Remove the plastic from the bowl and set it aside; you will use it again. To mix the dough, fit the hook to the mixer. Add the flour, salt, sugar, egg, and olive oil. Begin mixing. Once the dough comes together and leaves the sides and bottom of the bowl, continue kneading for about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and pull off a walnut-sized piece of dough. Round it up briefly between your palms, then gently tease it down over your fingertips. You want to see if it forms a "windowpane," which will tell you if you have adequately developed the gluten in the flour. If the dough tears before becoming nice and thin, it needs more kneading. Continue kneading in two or three-minute increments until the dough forms a good, strong windowpane.
At that point, add the meat, cheese, and sage leaves and knead until most are incorporated throughout the dough. Add the sage leaves whole; once fried, they become very fragile, and the kneading action will fragment them. Turn the dough out onto your board and knead in the reluctant pieces of capicola and provolone.
You can oil or pan spray the bowl, but honestly, the dough is so silken with olive oil that it isn't going to stick to anything. Cover the bowl again with your piece of plastic. Let dough proof at room temperature until you can poke it gently, and it retains the indentation. If it springs back, it needs to proof some more. As mentioned, this is a heavy dough, so it may take an hour-and-a-half to proof, depending on how warm your kitchen is at any given time of the year.
You don't have to use a paper bag or mold to bake it, though it makes a great story if you do; a n 8" or 9" round cake pan will do nicely as well. Whichever you decide to use, oil or pan spray it. If you are using paper, set it on a baking sheet. Gently turn the dough out of the bowl. Shape it into a round ball, and set it in your baking form. Drape the piece of plastic over it and allow it to proof again until it retains the indentation of your finger, about an hour.
While the bread is proofing, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. You don't need to score this bread before baking it. Set the pan or the baking sheet in the oven. and bake for 45 minutes, rotating it at the halfway point. When done, the dough should register 185 degrees on a thermometer. Be sure to take the temperature at the center.
When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing. Casatiello is definitely best when warm, and it makes the best toast you'll ever taste.