A Loaf from Le Marche: Crescia al Formaggio

8 Sep

When I first came across a recipe for Crescia al Formaggio, it noted that the recipe was an enriched Italian Easter cheese bread, but beyond that there wasn’t a lot of detailed information. It’s still relatively unknown in the United States, where many of the Italian Easter breads I’m familiar with are sweet yeasted breads enriched with eggs.

In order to dig deeper, I found myself using the magic of Google to translate several Italian web pages and discovered that this savory delight dated back to the Medieval period(!), and is said to have first been prepared by the nuns of the monastery of Santa Maria Maddalena in the Le Marche region. The recipe wasn’t codified until much later, and the first written trace dates back to 19th century recipe books. Traditionally, the bread is made only on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, where 40 eggs were divided between many loaves to symbolize the 40 days of Lent. These loaves were then taken to the church for blessing before being served on Easter Sunday morning or afternoon. It was seen as an Easter reward for Lenten penance, especially since rich ingredients like cheese and eggs were expensive and not widely available to the masses.

In the present, it is available year-round in smaller loaves, but the high, soft grander ones are only seen around Easter where it is traditionally baked in a round mold or panettone pan, giving the finished bread an almost soufflé-like appearance. I wanted to make this one a little more accessible, so we’re going to bake a smaller version in a loaf pan but trust me, it’s savory, golden and absolutely worthy of a holiday. Just as a note, it has quite a long rising period due to the eggs and cheese in the dough, so start this one early in the day.

Crescia al Formaggio

Dough:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, egg white reserved
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 2 oz. (4 tbsp.) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups grated parmesan, romano, or asiago cheese (I use a mix of all three depending on what I have on hand).

Egg wash:

  • Reserved egg white + 1 tbsp. cold water

Combine all of the dough ingredients except the cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes, scraping down the bowl every few minutes.

Add the cheese, and beat until incorporated.

Scrape the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and leave to rest for an hour. It will not rise very much. After an hour, turn the dough over in the bowl and leave to rest for another hour.

Flour your hands lightly. Scrape the dough out of the bowl, divide into three equal pieces, and form each into a 12 in. rope. My dough weighed 21 oz., so my ropes were 7 oz. each. Braid these together and then put the braid into a greased 9×5 in. loaf pan.

Cover the loaf lightly with greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 2 hours, or until noticeably puffier.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and adjust a rack to the middle position.

Whisk the reserved egg white with the water and brush it on top of the loaf gently.

Bake the bread for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, tent the bread lightly with aluminum foil, and bake for another 25 minutes or until the bread is a deep golden brown and registers at least 190 degrees F on an instant-read or probe thermometer.

Allow the bread to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn the bread out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

The dark golden crust is crispy, and the soft interior is savory and rich. This bread makes excellent toast and has a perfect texture and flavor for cold-cut sandwiches. I was enjoying it with smoked turkey and tomatoes shortly after cooling.

I feel so lucky sometimes to live in a time when ingredients are more widely available, and web pages can be translated in an instant, allowing me to learn about recipes I might otherwise never have known to try. Food connects us and brings us closer together to our families and to our histories, sharing celebrations across generations. What a blessing and a joy.

Ciao for now,

Neen

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