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Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua… Sort of.

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua, sliced

You could say pizza cresciuta is an Easter (Pasqua*) equivalent of the traditional north Italian Christmas cake panettone. Pizza cresciuta is one the many distinctive Italian baked products I saw during our two years in Rome. I mentioned it last year in a round-up of Easter baked goods and baking, saying that the verb crescere means “to rise”, as in the word crescendo. I also mentioned that the word pizza means a lot more than just a topped dough disc in Italy. So this is a “risen pizza” (it’s also called pizza ricresciuta – “re-risen pizza”). I believe a cresciuta is also term for what we’d call a sponge or pre-ferment – yeast, water and some of the recipe’s flour mixed ahead of time to get the leavening going nicely. It’s a term that’s also applied, in Naples I think, for a yeasted batter. Anyone with more knowledge about this, please do comment!

In shape the pizza cresciuta di Pasqua I saw in Rome was more like a tall round cake – that is, like panettone. Except when it’s savoury. Looking at recipes online, most of them are an enriched dough with some spices, but there are even recipes online in Italian for cheesy versions.

As the ones I’d seen in Rome were always sweet, I wanted to try that this Easter. Though I’ll say now that this is one of those experiments that didn’t really quite exactly work. Blogging it anyway, as a record. If I do try to perfect it, I don’t think it’ll be until next Easter.

A lot of the recipes I found used spices – notably anise seed and cinnamon. Most of them also used some liquor, notably spiced or herbal liquers like Alchermes (aka Alkermes) and Strega. One recipe I saw even contained 100ml each of rum, vermouth, alchermes, cognac, and cointreau! But I thought this much strong liquor was sure to bugger things up with the yeast (I note now that that recipe uses “lievito paneangeli” – I think this is a kind of vanilla flavoured baking powder).

I couldn’t hope to get Alchermes and Strega, but was able to source a bottle of the latter from TwentyOne Wines in Brighton (thanks Philip, who opened up for me during his Easter holiday last week). I was also finally able to track down some aniseed – something I’ve not been able to source in smalltown Lewes, and really want for several other Italian recipes, notably aniseed-flavoured ciambelline al vino (ring biscuits often eaten with a digestivo after dinner).

So here’s my recipe. Tweaked slightly from the weekend’s effort, but to really work I think it’ll need more tweaking. If you do have a try yourself, or have a better recipe, again, please let me know.

Some ingredients

Liqueur
50g Strega
2 t aniseed

Sponge / pre-ferment, or cresciuta
100g strong white flour
100g water
10g fresh yeast

Dough
250g strong white flour
300g plain, all-purpose or type ‘0’ flour
6g salt
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
5 medium eggs
2 t vanilla
300g caster sugar (seems a lot but vabé)
50g lard
50g butter

Aniseed in Strega

1. Put the aniseed in the liqeur and leave to macerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
2. Make a sponge with the yeast, the water and 100g of the the strong white flour.

Lively sponge
3. Leave the sponge to ferment, covered, in a cool, draft-free place overnight.
4. Lightly beat together the eggs, vanilla, zests, sugar, booze and other spices.
6. Melt together the lard and butter then allow to cool.
7. Add the melted fat to the egg and liqeur mix.
5. Put the rest of the flour in a large bowl, along with the salt, then add the wet mixture.

Slightly strange sticky pizza cresciuta dough action shot
6. Make a dough – a nice soft, wet, tricky-to-handle dough.
8. Give the dough three short kneads every 10 minutes over half an hour or so, forming a ball, returning it to the bowl and covering between each knead. (This is the very handy Dan Lepard method.)
9. After the final knead, put the ball back in the bowl, cover again, then leave to prove until doubled in size.
10. Form a ball and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
11. Tighten up the ball, then put it in a tall, deep tin (it could be an old food tin, which is what I did when I made panettone, though note – not one with plastic lining), or in a paper panettone case. I used the latter, which are available from Bakery Bits.
12. Leave to prove up again. Ideally you want it to double in size and feel nicely inflated. Hm. See discussion below.
13. Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan oven).
14. Brush the top of the dough beaten egg. I didn’t bother as, frankly, my dough didn’t look great.
15. Bake the pizza for about 20 minutes, then turn down the oven by 20C.
16. Test to see if it’s done with a knock on the bottom. Hm. See discussion below.
17. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua. Sort of.

Eat for your Easter Sunday breakfast. In Rome, the pizza cresciuta is eaten for Easter Sunday breakfast with corallina salami. We had this one for breakfast, even though I was disappointed with the results. And couldn’t get corallina.

I knew it was going wrong when the dough seemed sluggish for the final prove. There was some (very irregular) oven spring, but I knew it was going even wronger when I first took it out of the oven – it just felt hefty, not light like a panettone. I had the oven set too low originally, and it baked too slowly, and ended up both dense and thick-crusted.

Easter Sunday breakfast - Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua

The taste was interesting though, thanks to the Strega, which features saffron, mint and fennel among its many ingredients, and the aniseed. Though I do wonder about the Strega. Certainly yeast produces alcohol alongside CO2 when it’s active in the dough, but not too much alcohol, or the presence of strong alcohol retards the action. Scratching my head about this today, I found one comment at Delia Online (here) that says “Baker’s yeast is tolerant to alcohol to about 3%. That’s 3% C2H5OH [ethanol] by mass. Brandy is about 40% C2H5OH.” I’m not sure my 50g Strega could really retard the yeast quite so much, but clearly something was awry. My proving times were quite possibly problematic too. And  I suspect all that sugar might have been a factor in affecting the activity of the yeast too.

Anyway, next time I try it, I might adapt my attempt at panettone a few years ago, which was much more successful, and go easier on the strong liquor too. Fun experiment anyway even if the result is slighty heavy duty. We had a load more for Easter Monday breakfast earlier, and it was pretty good toasted.

 

 

 

* While the English word for Easter comes from the name of a pagan goddesses – the Anglo-Saxon Ēostre – the Italian word relates to the word Passover, which comes from Pesach and the Hebrew pesah and pasah.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Baking, Other food, Pizza, Recipes, Rome

Easter in Rome – colomba, casatiello, seasonal pizzas and the like

If you like baked goodies (and considering you’re visiting a blog named Bread, Cakes and Ale, I have to conclude that you do), Easter is a great time to be living in Rome. Sure, the Spring might be making half-hearted attempts to arrive, and sure the mild + damp has resulted in my first 5am mosquito strafing (damn them), and sure the city council might have decided to move my favourite farmers market out of walking distance (from Testaccio’s Ex-Mattatoio to Garbatella – *weep*. End of an era) BUT the bakeries the past week of so have been full of seasonal specialities. Which compensates nicely.

This is my, um, second Easter in Rome, and I vowed I’d try and make X or Y after seeing, buying, consuming and enjoying them last year. But you know what, I can’t get that really nice light airy crumb on an enriched dough in my domestic oven, and I’m working long hours, so I thought stuff it, I’ll just buy an X. In this case the X refers to colomba.

Colomba di Pasqua

Colomba means dove in Italian, so this is an Easter dove cake. No doves are used in the bake though. Instead, Colomba is basically the same kind of enriched dough as used in a Panettone, just baked in a different form. Indeed, it’s shaped like an X, appropriately enough for Easter and considering my phrasing above. Though the X isn’t supposed to represent a cross, it’s supposed to represent the shape of a bird, in flight. You know, wings outstretched on either side, head, tail. Ta da.

We bought ours from Pasticceria Nonna Nani, Via Giacinto Carini 35, Monteverde Vecchio. It was made with a natural leaven though it had no trace of a sour sourdough flavour, presumably thanks to the generous presence of sugar, eggs and candied peel. Very nice.

Casatiello

While buying the Colomba I also spied Nonna Nani’s Casatiello. I’ve seen these a lot in Roman bakeries the past two Easters, though apparently they’re not Roman traditionally, they’re Neopolitan. Indeed, a Neopolitan lady who was giving me Italian classes last year gave me some.

This bread is most notable for the presence of eggs placed in the dough before baking, whole, intact and intero, including the shell. The dough is made with lard, and also contains cheese(s) and cured meats. This recipe on the Giallo Zafferano site includes pancetta and salami, but the Italian Wikipedia entry says it should contain cicoli. Otherwise known as ciccioli. In the ‘Pig’s Fat’ entry of Gillian Riley’s Oxford Companion to Italian Food, she says “Strutto is the name of lard: fat from all parts of the carcass, internal and external, rendered down – the delicious crispy bits left over are called ciccioli.”

So now you know.

Now, I’m not much of a meat fiend, so I’ve never really been that drawn to Casatiello, though my wife Fran is a meataholic, and was keen to bake something meatily traditional this Easter. It’s the end of Lent, so a blow-out is kinda traditional I suppose. As I was researching Italian Easter baked goods, sweet and savoury, I came across pizza gaina/pizzagaina, also known as pizza chiena.

Pizza gaina, aka pizza chiena

This seems to be a type of pizza rustica or pizza ripiena that’s made for Easter. Before you say, “eh, pizza?”, note that the word doesn’t just refer to flat bread discs with stuff smeared on top here in Italy. Pizza rustica, for example, is a generic term for things that are basically rustic pies – though rather than being made with a pastry crust, they’re made with a yeasted pizza dough crust. Pizza ripiena, meanwhile, literally just means stuffed or filled pizza. No one really seems to be that in agreement about the origins of the word pizza, so I’m not going to go on an etymology ramble. If you read Riley, or John Dickie’s Delizia!, the term seems to have had many and varied uses.

Oddly, I can’t really get a handle on where pizza gaina/chiena is from. I’ve not actually seen it in bakeries here in Rome and most of the recipes online seem to be American, or Italian-American, rather than Italian. And even Britain’s own Nigella Lawson has a version, though she makes no mention of Easter, and simply calls it Pizza rustica. Indeed, it’s quite a natural fit with British food, as it’s really not unlike a ham and egg pie.

The version Fran did was basically just an excuse for a meat (and cheese) fest. She made a basic white dough and used it to line a springform cake tin. She then filled the case with various strata of cheese and meat. Vegetarians – look away! Vegans – look away and weep!

In this pic (above) you can see the freshly baked pizza gaina, still cooling in its springform tin. Alongside is a wholemeal farro loaf.

Pizza ricresciuta (or cresciuta) di Pasqua

Another type of Easer pizza I have seen in Rome is the pizza ricresciuta. This is even more unlike your familiar disc-shaped pizzas because it’s tall, round loaf or cake eaten for Easter breakfast. Indeed, it seems to come in sweet and savoury versions, though I’ve mostly seen cheesey ones in the windows of Roman bakeries. Crescere, btw, means to grow, to grow up, to increase, so I guess you could imagine it as a pizza dough that’s been left to expand, to shake off the shackles of disc-like flatness.

And finally

Look, I know the Simnel Cake is the traditional British Easter cake, but I really don’t much like dense fruit cakes, okay? In our family, we’ve always just made a lemon sponge decorated with lemon butter icing and Mini Eggs. So that’s just what I did. Annoyingly, I didn’t really get to thinking about it until Easter Sunday then made it Easter Monday. What I really thought would be a nice Italian twist would be to put a layer of mascarpone in the middle, along with a layer of lemon curd (maybe that bit’s not quite so Italian), then maybe just a sprinkle of icing sugar on top. None of that happened though. I noobed my lemon curd, and we couldn’t get any Mini Eggs, so instead went with those sugar-coated chocolate eggs that resemble real eggs. And are really hard on the teeth.

Then I forgot to take a proper photo, which is a shame as it was cute. All I’ve got is this crop, with the cake nestled among many wine bottles. We were  doing a sensible, sophisticated wine tasting, honest.

Wine and Easter cake

Anyway, Happy Easter, belatedly.

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Filed under Breads, Cakes (yeasted)