My sister Michele and I have been on a sensory journey lately–one of food smells and tastes that invoke fond recollections. Looking at old photos doesn’t even come close. Especially now with the pandemic forcing a long period without family get-togethers and holiday celebrations, reliving favorite memories through our favorite foods gives us hope for making new memories filled with family and food in the not-too-distant future.
Recently we posted about our Mom’s comforting winter Italian Wedding Soup; Chicken with Wine, which can fill a room with its irresistible aroma; and the non-Italian–but everyone’s favorite–Molasses Crumb Cake. As the aromas of these dishes fill our kitchens, they also fill our hearts with nostalgia. Powerful emotions come with the flood of memories: some of warm supportive family gatherings around a big table, others of big fights and loud arguments (about what, exactly, we can’t remember).
All these smells and tastes didn’t fill just our house. We were lucky enough when we were young children to have our grandparents as well as our Aunts Annie and Mary living in the original family home just a few blocks away. Michele and I both spent a lot of time there as kids, playing and hanging out after school. Our aunts Mary and Annie were really second parents for us. Saturday road trips in Aunt Annie’s Monte Carlo the Land of Make Believe and late night coffee chats with Aunt Mary are still strong memories with both of us.
My Aunt Annie by her own admission couldn’t boil water, but my Aunt Mary was a wonderful cook. I so clearly remember the taste of my Aunt Mary’s mouth-watering Crescia al Formaggio (or as we knew it, just crescia), which she made around Easter. This savory bread gets its name from the Italian verb crescere – to rise. Its name is a pun on both the effect of yeast in the bread and the resurrection of Christ.
I remember the smell of this bread baking but even more the taste, especially when toasted and spread with a little butter. Its combination of cheeses and black pepper was a constant at breakfast or for snacks during the Easter season. My dad used to soak up the leftover spaghetti sauce on his plate with it.
This recipe comes straight from the Marche region of Italy where our paternal grandfather Giuseppe was born. It uses my Aunt Mary’s recipe with some tweaks from my Italian cousin Massimo Becci’s wife Maria; they still live in the very house where our grandfather and his brother, Massimo’s grandfather, grew up. You can read some of this backstory in a previous post.
This recipe is all about the cheese, so this is the time to spring for good-quality cheeses: Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, as well as Asiago or Fontina melting cheeses. Good-quality olive oil is also important.
In trying different baking recipes recently, I came across an approach from Jessica Gavin for using your oven as a makeshift proofing box. I quite like this idea, as it will speed up the proofing time considerably. Just check the dough occasionally so you don’t shoot past the doubled size. I’ve tried this several times for different baking recipes and it works great!
Try this recipe and enjoy crescia during this Easter season, for breakfast or for an afternoon snack. It’s an invitation to embark on your own sensory journey!Print
You can use an 8- or 9-inch cake pan or springform pan to bake the bread. If using a cake pan, line with cut parchment paper to make it easier to remove.
The yeast, cheese and flour ingredients below are given by weight, the preferred measurement for baking. Pull out your trusty scale!
- 18 g fresh yeast — or — 7 g instant yeast
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 tsp sugar
- 5 large eggs
- ½ cup olive oil
- 500 g flour
- 150 g grated Parmesan cheese
- 50 g grated Pecorino Romano
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper or more to taste
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 150 g mild melting cheese such as Asiago, Fontina, Gruyère, or Swiss cheese cut into small cubes
- Let all the ingredients except for the yeast and the milk come to room temperature.
- In a small bowl, mix the yeast and the sugar. If using fresh yeast, make a paste with the yeast and sugar.
- Heat the milk in a small pot on the stove to lukewarm (about 100℉-110℉) and stir into the yeast to dissolve. Leave the mixture for about 10 minutes until it’s bubbly and foamy (this step isn’t strictly necessary for instant yeast but it will make sure it’s still alive and viable).
- In a large mixing bowl, add the eggs and whisk until smooth.
- Add the yeast mixture and olive oil and whisk until combined and emulsified.
- Now switching to a wooden or silicon spoon, add about 1/3 of the flour, Parmesan and Pecorino cheese, salt and pepper and mix into the egg mixture until completely combined.
- Slowly add the remaining flour and mix to combine as completely as you can.
- Scrape out the dough and any remaining bits of flour onto a wooden board and mix with your hands until completely combined. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm area to rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours (see note about using your oven as a proofing box).
- Remove the risen dough and place on the wooden board. Add the cubed melting cheese pushing the cheese into the dough.
- Gently form the dough back into a ball and place in the cooking pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm area to rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours (again see note about using your oven as a proofing box). Remove the plastic wrap.
- Preheat oven to 350-degrees and then bake the bread until golden brown on top, about 30 minutes. If the bread is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.
- Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Remove from the baking pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
- Serve in wedge slices with a little butter, or just as is!
See Jessica Gavin’s article for using your oven as a makeshift proofing box.