Easter Cheese Bread on Pasqua & Pasquetta in Italy

The Easter weekend came and went with a rainy and cold spell, abruptly robbing us of well-planned garden lunches and leaving us with makeshift indoor dining instead.  Both our Pasqua (Easter Sunday) and Pasquetta (Easter Monday) lunches were spent indoors while we wondered how the temperature suddenly dropped to a low wintry one. 

Nine o'clock on Monday morning, I rushed out to get some rosemary twigs and mint leaves.  I was unprepared to run into the unexpected cold that I almost turned into an icicle in my thin clothes.  It was 8 degrees Celsius. In spring.  Something was not right here.   It turned into a cold and windy day.  We folded our hopes of having a typical outdoor Pasquetta brunch with the grill on in the company of some friends.  I looked at all the things on the kitchen table that we prepared for outdoor eating.  There goes our work the previous night.  It was time to switch to plan B and think of eating indoors.  I was thinking of the big job ahead of me but stopped short after I thought about how the restaurant we went to the day before dealt with the same problem in a grander scale.  They had to move the buffet table and accommodate everyone indoors after it rained.  

After all these fiasco with the erratic weekend weather, Tuesday instead was such a warm, beautiful, sunny day.  Sigh.

We extended our series of Easter lunches and had a wonderful outdoor "Easter Tuesday" lunch with the grill on to make up for the spoiled past days. 

If Christmas has the Panettone and the Pandoro, Easter has the Colomba.  For the salty cake/bread, there is the Pizza di Pasqua (also known as Torta di Pasqua) in Central Italy especially in the regions of Umbria and Marche. 

For this Easter, I decided to make my own Pizza di Pasqua.  Out of all the recipes I found, I didn't know what to trust until  I found a recipe at Anice e Cannella (in Italian) that is more than a century old and seems seriously perfect (and seriously long to do and seriously precise but seriously good!).  A friend had been raving about a bread-making course she took with Paoletta of Anice & Cannella once and I thought this had to be it.  This is the recipe.

Our Easters have gone by over the years receiving beautifully wrapped Pizze di Pasqua from my husband's mother or we buy them from bakeries in other towns.   It was a subject I never thought of approaching.

It was a preparation in advance because the bread should taste better between 3 - 4 days after baking.  Friday was my target date with this long day of kneading, waiting for the rising and baking after my husband found the particular tin mold the recipe had specified.

For once in my baking life, I paid full attention to all the details.  It took me all afternoon to come up with the bread, and after waiting until Easter to cut it, came out beautifully inside and out.   My husband said that it's the best he ever had so the recipe stays with me every Easter.  I eat Pizza di Pasqua to a minimal amount so I am not really the best person to judge how it is. 

This simple, cheesy bread has an age-old tradition in the Umbrian area.  They are made days in advance before Easter.  When Holy Saturday arrives, the people file to the church with a big basket for each family.  These baskets with hand-sewn linens contain a Pizza di Pasqua, a bottle of red wine, a hard-boiled egg for each member of the family and salame. The food are blessed then eaten on Easter breakfast.   If you want to read more about it, refer to this informative link I found.  

We traveled southwards along the coast to a town called Ardea for Easter Sunday.  We always try out new places for Easter and this time, we booked our lunch at a restaurant called La Pineta dei Liberti.   It was a gem of a place and the food was very good. 

Typical of any Italian full course meal, there was too much food.  We almost gave up eating after the 4th (or was it 5th?) big plate of antipasto that arrived.  The other courses that followed were composed of two kinds each.  After four hours of sitting and eating, it was a struggle to stand up with the extra weight we gained.  As much as I love food, sometimes, I can't keep up with all the courses in an Italian meal.   

Pasquetta (Easter Monday) is the day dedicated for outdoors.  Typically, there is the Pizza di Pasqua eaten with salame, usually the almost meter-long, corallina, hard-boiled eggs and red wine for breakfast or brunch, for Pasqua or Pasquetta.  At home, we have this breakfast on Pasquetta along with other kinds of ham and cheese followed by grilled lamb and other kinds of meat.   It's the first official day to welcome spring (dressed in winter clothes and shivering with the temperature.)  Last year's weather had been great.  

Aside from all these traditional foods, there is the most fundamental part for the kids.  The big chocolate eggs that have little gifts inside.  Thank God they're hollow!  It's another one of those occasions when the kids are rocking high with big doses of sugar intake, to the defeat of all parents.  My kids had been receiving and eating chocolate eggs the whole weekend.   And you can imagine how much they have been flying on top of the tables.  Seriously.

I hope you all had wonderful Easter celebrations like we did. 

Pizza di Pasqua al Formaggio (Easter Cheese Bread)

For a baking mold of 12 cm. height, 16 cm. base, 21 cm. rim
Serves 8
  • 5 eggs
  • 300 g. flour "tipo 0"
  • 200 g. flour of manitoba (wheat flour, Triticum aestivum)
  • 100 ml. lukewarm water
  • 25 - 30 g. (1 cube) fresh baker's yeast (lievito di birra)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (good quality)
  • 50 g. lard (do not substitute), softened
  • 250 g. mixed grated cheese (Best if you use two kinds of cheese divided in two equal parts.  ONLY with Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, can you augment the amount according to your taste.  I used 200 g. of Parmigiano Reggiano and 200 g. of Pecorino Romano.)
  • Tin mold called caldaiette in Rome is the best mold to use.  This is actually used for cooking the pasta.  The baking molds made of thick aluminum yields semi-cooked bread. 

  1. Crumble yeast in a small bowl or cup (preferably plastic).  Add sugar and the lukewarm water.  Mix well until yeast melts.  Let it ferment for 5 - 6 minutes.
  2. Put both kinds of flour in a big bowl and make a hole in the middle by pushing the flour away from the center.
  3.  Pour the fermented yeast mixed with water in the hole, at the center of the bowl.  With the use of a teaspoon, get a little bit of flour and mix with the liquid until you have a soggy dough. 
  4. With the use of the rest of the flour in the bowl, cover the dough (do not knead) to isolate it and let it ferment more.  Leave for 40 - 50 minutes.  (I let it ferment for 1 hour.)
  5. In the meantime, whisk the eggs.  Add salt, pepper and grated cheese.  At the end of mixing, add extra virgin olive oil.  Let it rest to make the flavors blend.
  6. When the dough has fermented, it should look wrinkled.  Pour the egg and cheese mixture in the bowl and mix with the dough well. 
  7. Knead well.  (At this point,  transferred the dough to a wooden board sprinkled with little flour.  Add lard.  Knead very well and for a long time until the dough becomes soft.  It will remain soft if you do not exceed 600 g. of flour.  Keep in mind that you already put 500 g. of combined flour as part of the ingredients.
  8. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 45 minutes, covered.  
  9. Then put it in a well-oiled mold and let it rise in a warm place until the dough reaches the rim.  (I left it in the oven.  My oven has the rising option with the temperature of 35 degrees Celsius.)  After the dough rises, take it out of the oven. (If you are making it rise there.).  
  10. Turn the oven knob to the baking option with a temperature of 190 - 200 degrees Celsius and leave the oven door slightly open so that it doesn't become too hot.
  11. After a few minutes, put the dough inside.  Pour a glass of water in the oven tray that should be touching the bottom of the oven.  If it isn't touching the bottom like mine, take it away and just put a baking pan that should rest directly on the oven's bottom.  This contact should immediately create vapor inside the oven.  Close the door immediately and cook for 45 minutes without opening the door at all while cooking. 
  12. After 45 minutes, you can open the oven door and check the progress of cooking by inserting a skewer at the center of the bread.  You can cook for about 5 minutes more if needed.  If the dough rose well, then 45 - 50 min. should be enough to cook the bread.  You can cook it longer but there's a risk that the bread will dry up.
  13. This bread tastes better if done between 3 - 4 days ahead to make all the flavors come out.  Keep it wrapped well at room temperature (I put it in a ziplock bag outside the fridge and away from the sun and heat.).