Sunday 11 December 2016

Catherine Fulvio's Easter baking special

Catherine Fulvio tempts us with traditional Italian bakery for Easter

Published 05/04/2015 | 02:30

Pane di Pasque
Pane di Pasque
Catherine Fulvio's 'Bake like an Italian'
Casatiello Easter bread
Cassata

Easter is a wonderful time of year here at Ballyknocken House and Cookery School in Co. Wicklow, everything is coming to life and everyone is enjoying the longer days.

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Similar to Ireland, in parts of Italy, lamb is the centrepiece of the table on Easter Sunday but I thought I would share something a little different with you. All the pasticceria in Italy are laden with the most amazing selection of beautifully baked goods and most important are the specialist Easter cakes and breads, including cassatta, casatiello, pane pasquale and the colomba.

My Cassata celebration cake is traditionally associated with Easter and known as a springtime cake. Cassata is considered a classic Sicilian Easter delicacy.

An old wives tales tells how in the 16th century in Sicily, nuns were banned from making cassata as it kept them from their prayers! Given that the clocks have changed and we can enjoy a lot more daylight, I didn't want to delay anyone unnecessarily in the kitchen, so I have adapted this recipe to make it faster to prepare. It can be found in my new cookbook, Bake Like an Italian.

There are a number of different versions of cassata - baked, ice-cream and cake. The cake is most traditional in Palermo and is usually finished with green icing and white piping. However, I decorate mine with candied orange and lemon, and as an Easter dessert, I suggest topping it off with some little coloured Easter eggs - you will get great interest from all around the table.

Enjoy and buona Pasqua!

* To learn first-hand how to make some of these baked delights join a cookery class at Ballyknocken Cookery School. Choose from 'Baking Bootcamp' in April and 'Bake It Don't Buy It' in May. See ballyknocken.com or call 0404 44627 for details.

I love the beautiful pale green frosting of the traditional Sicilian cassata cake. This is my simplified version of the celebration cake, which isn't green as I thought it might look too much like a Paddy's Day cake.

Cassata celebration cake

Serves 12

You will need

For the cake:

6 eggs, separated

375g caster sugar, divided

Zest of 1 lemon

300g plain flour, sifted

1½ tsp baking powder

For the filling:

350g ricotta

160g icing sugar

100g candied fruits, such as pineapple, apricot, papaya and cherries

50g toasted pine nuts

80ml Marsala

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

For the syrup:

150ml orange juice

60ml Marsala

For the icing:

500g icing sugar, sifted

160g ricotta

250g toasted flaked almonds, to decorate

Candied fruits, to decorate

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. Line a 25cm springform tin with baking parchment. Place the egg whites into a clean, dry mixing bowl and whisk until stiff peaks form. Fold in 100g of the caster sugar with a metal spoon.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining 275g of caster sugar and the lemon zest. Fold in the egg white and sugar mixture and then the sifted flour and baking powder. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for about 55 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool and then remove the tin.

To prepare the filling, combine all the ingredients and set aside. Mix together the orange juice and Marsala in a separate bowl. To assemble, slice the cake into four even layers. Place the first layer back into the cake ring, drizzle with syrup and spread over one-third of the filling. Add another layer of cake on top and continue layering, ending with cake. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight.

Meanwhile, to make the icing, whisk together the icing sugar and ricotta in a large bowl. Set aside.

To serve, unwrap and place on a cake stand. Ice the top and sides of the cake. Decorate the sides with toasted almond flakes and arrange the candied fruit on top.

Casatiello Bread / Casatiello Napoletano

Dating back to Naples in the 1600s, Casatiello Napoletano is usually served with antipasti on Easter Sunday, but the leftovers (if there any) are delicious on La Pasquetta (Easter Monday).

Makes 1 large loaf

You will need

To activate the yeast:

1 tbsp caster sugar

1½ tsp fast-action dried yeast

60ml warm water

For the dough:

600g '00' flour

4 tbsp grated Parmesan

1 tsp salt

½ freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

400ml warm water

Semolina, for dusting

For the filling:

200g Provolone, diced

100g salami, diced

100g mortadella, diced

1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 eggs

Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tbsp water)

Method

Combine the sugar, yeast and the warm water in a small bowl and let it stand for 10 minutes. When the yeast is frothy, it's ready to use.

Place the flour, Parmesan, salt and pepper in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix to combine. Pour in the olive oil, the activated yeast and enough of the warm water to form a soft dough, adding a little more flour or warm water if necessary. Knead on a medium speed for about five minutes to form a smooth, elastic dough. Alternatively, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes.

Brush a large bowl with olive oil. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for about two hours, until it has doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knock it back and knead for 2-3 minutes. Cut off about 50g of dough for decorating the top. Dust the work surface with semolina and flour and roll the rest of the dough out into a 20cm x 30cm rectangle.

Scatter over the cheese, salami, mortadella, rosemary, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roll the dough up like a Swiss roll. Brush a 24cm loose-bottomed cake tin with olive oil and dust with semolina. Place the dough into the tin and tuck the two ends together to form a ring. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and leave to rise again in a warm place for about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/gas mark 5. Remove the plastic wrap and insert the eggs in the top of the dough, pressing them in to anchor them.

Roll out the remaining 50g of dough until it's 8cm long and 12cm wide. Using a pastry wheel, slice the dough into six equal strips and use two pieces to make a cross over each egg, securing with a little egg wash.

Glaze the rest of the top with a little egg wash and bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden and cooked through. Allow to cool slightly and then run a knife along the edge of the pan to loosen it. Turn the bread out onto a cooling rack.

Beautifully braided and with colourful eggs nestled in it, this is a fluffy, light bread that is such fun to make. Since it's sweet, you can be sure the children will devour lots of it. Smaller eggs work better in this recipe and the dough is braided around the eggs.

Easter Bread / Pane di Pasqua

Makes 6

You will need

450g '00' flour

100g caster sugar

2 tsp fast-action dried yeast

½ tsp salt

Zest of 1 lemon

70g butter

180ml milk

1 egg

6 small coloured eggs (see right for how to colour them)

Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tbsp water)

Method

Place the flour, sugar, yeast, salt and lemon zest in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook and stir together.

Gently melt the butter and add the milk to warm it through, then cool slightly before whisking in the egg. Check the temperature, as it should not be too hot.

Pour this over the dry ingredients and mix just until a soft dough is formed, adding a little more flour or warm milk if necessary. Knead on a medium speed for about five minutes to form a smooth, elastic dough. Brush a large bowl with olive oil. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for about two hours, until it has doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knock it back and knead for 2-3 minutes. Divide the dough into six even pieces and then divide these pieces in half again. Using your fingers, roll out each piece into a 25cm rope.

Twist each rope into a double braid and turn into a circle. Do the same with the remaining ropes and place on two baking trays lined with baking parchment. Oil a piece of plastic wrap and loosely cover the dough. Leave to rise again in a warm place for 20-25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/gas mark 5. Insert the coloured eggs into the hole in the centre of the dough.

Glaze the top of the dough with a little egg wash, taking care not to egg wash the coloured egg. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Place on a cooling rack.

Tip

To colour the eggs, use 1 tbsp white vinegar to 250ml boiling water. Pour the vinegar, a little coloured food paste and the boiling water into a bowl (use a cocktail stick to measure out a dab of coloured paste - you only need a little). Allow the water to cool for 15 minutes. Place the uncooked eggs onto a slotted spoon and submerse into the coloured water. Do this one by one and leave for 3-5 hours, depending on how deep you want the colour to be.

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