When I decided to do an Italian-themed Easter this year, I, of course, had to ask my Italian friend for a Serrano family recipe to add to our menu. When she suggested a cheesy bread her mom makes every year (Crescia), I jumped to say, Ding, ding, ding! We have ourselves a winner! Who doesn’t like cheesy bread?! This recipe was right up my alley. I love cheese. I love bread. Case closed.
Googling a Crescia recipe wasn’t going to do for our authentic Italian Easter meal. I made Angie text her mom for the recipe. She sent a picture of the recipe she’s probably had for several decades. It looked similar to old-time recipes I might find in my mom’s recipe card box or my grandma’s. The recipe called to use butter or oleo. Seeing the word oleo as an ingredient always cracks me up. Oleo as an ingredient I always associate with a classic old-time recipe (that would typically be found in my mom or my grandma’s recipe card box). Am I right or am I right? These days, recipes usually call for butter or margarine. In case you’re wondering, oleo is a colloquial term for margarine.
After sending us the recipe, Angie’s mom texted to say that she also adds brick cheese to the bread dough before baking. I said, Brick cheese or a brick of cheese? This is an important distinction. We need to know!
In my family brick cheese is known as “stinky” cheese. I didn’t start liking stinky cheese until my mid 30s but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had stinky brick cheese though I swear I have had non-stinky brick cheese. (In fact, I’m positive I’ve had it several times on a walnut burger at Beans and Barley in Milwaukee and it was not the least bit stinky. A quick glance at the latest menu shows this food item is possibly no longer served with Brick cheese–sad!) That makes sense actually because young Brick cheese, I learned, is not stinky.
It turns out Angie’s mom meant Brick cheese not a brick of cheese. I wanted to see if we could find some so we could make the recipe exactly as specified. So we went to Trader Joe’s because I figured it has about the biggest selection of cheese around, but no dice. This honestly didn’t surprise me because Brick cheese originates in Wisconsin and apparently isn’t as popular as Wisconsin cheddar, which incidentally is sold at Trader Joe’s.
So we sat there staring at the varieties of cheese trying to find something comparable to Brick cheese. I actually googled substitutes but they didn’t seem sufficient. When I suggested some cheese that I cannot even remember, Angie commented that the cheese I mentioned wasn’t Italian and suggested we should get an Italian cheese (which at Trader Joe’s is like mozzarella or fontina or hard cheeses that don’t melt well). I asked if Brick cheese is Italian and Angie laughed and said, no. So we settled Monterey Jack cheese, which was listed as a Brick cheese substitute. When it got down to baking we decided to forgo the jack cheese for provolone which we already had cut up. In the second loaf of bread I made, I used Havarti. I preferred the provolone because it’s strong in taste and Havarti is very mild, IMO.
I didn’t do much in terms of making this bread. Angie did all the leg work, which is fitting because it’s her family recipe. The only thing I contributed was proofing the yeast, raising the dough (twice) and baking.
As it was baking I had to put a cookie sheet underneath because I thought the bread was about to spill out over the top and sides of the bread pan. (This has happened to me multiple times, actually.)
I was panicking a little but luckily it didn’t do more than dribble a bit of cheese down the sides of the pan. Angie asked her mom what was up and her mom suggested we added to much cheese before baking. (But really, is there such thing?)
The recipe yields two substantial sizes of bread; I used a larger size bread pan. This bread rises and browns very nicely in the oven and with the cheese on top comes out looking pretty cool and impressive. You can make it even cooler looking by braiding it. More on that later!
This was my favorite recipe we made on Easter. First because it was my friend’s family recipe so it has more meaning than a celebrity’s recipe (Sorry, Tucc!). But second the bread was just freaking amazing. It has a strong cheese flavor and is a bit peppery (from the pepper). I gave the leftovers of the first loaf to my cousin and her boyfriend but over the course of about a week, I ate the second loaf that I made. I typically could not eat just one piece of this bread and often at three pieces!
This bread tastes great just out of the oven slathered in butter. But it also tastes amazing as toast (also slathered with butter). Although this is typically served at Easter, it’s so good I would make this anytime of the year.
- 5 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- 6 eggs
- 1 T. salt
- 2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 large cake of yeast (this = 1 packet of yeast or 2 1/4 tsp.)
- 1 c. butter or oleo (margarine), melted
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 c. milk (we used half and half)
- 1 T. sugar
- Brick cheese cut into chunks to add to the dough before baking (or use a substitute if you can’t find Brick cheese)
- Dissolve yeast in warm milk and sugar and allow the yeast to proof (about 5 minutes or until the yeast puffs up). The milk should be just warm, not hot.
- Combine flour, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl.
- Beat eggs and add melted a butter and eggs to the dry ingredients. Mix well.
- Stir proofed yeast into the mixed flour/egg mixture. Knead as for bread. (We kneaded in my stand mixer for about 5 minutes.)
- Let the dough rise to double in bulk. Cover the container with a clean cloth or even Saran wrap and put in a warm area if you have one.
- Divide loaves between two large bread pans in an elongated oval or save half the dough for another time. (I threw one ball of dough into the fridge for another day.) Let the dough rise again in the bread pan. You don’t want to to rise too much or it will threaten to spill out of your pan while baking.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for one hour. Allow bread to cool 5 to 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm with plenty of butter.
If you want to get fancy and do a bread braid like I did for my second loaf, on a flat surface roll out three equal sized ropes of dough using plenty of flour. (I used a marble pastry board.) You’re gonna have to get the ropes fairly thin for this step. You want them longer than the bread pan because when you braid the bread dough, it will “shorten” from the braiding process.
I stuffed each rope of bread with several chunks of cheese and then pinched the dough around it to seal. I thought it would be the most wonderful thing to have the bread stuffed with cheese and covered in melted cheese on top.
On a cutting board or marble pastry board, press the end of the all three ropes of bread together. You can stuff a chunk of cheese where the three ends meet if you so desire. Take the right rope of dough and bring it over the middle rope of dough letting the remaining rope of dough to drape in between the left and middle ropes of dough. Take the left rope of dough and bring it over the now middle rope of dough (previously the right rope) letting the remaining length of the rope to drape in between the now right and middle ropes. Repeat until you’ve reached the end of the bread and then press the three ends together. You can press some cheese into the bread where the ends meet at this juncture, if you wish.
Pick up your braid and place the braid into a greased bread pan. Place remaining cheese on top of the braid and in it’s nooks and crannies. You can also shove some down into the sides or even the bottom.
Allow to rise before baking. You’re ok with sticking the bread in the oven when the bread is just below the top of the bread pan. It will rise more when it bakes.
This was my first time braiding bread and I absolutely loved the results. I especially loved cutting into this bread and seeing the cheese tucked inside.