Perugian Cheese Bread: An Adopted Holiday Tradition

Bethany, of the well-written site Coffee Stained Clarity, knew that my life went off-road this past week and has generously offered to share a recipe that she picked up while living in Italy with her family.

In addition to living and traveling abroad with her family, teaching, writing, and baking up some seriously delicious food, Bethany is also working on an exciting new project. With the help of Kickstarter, Bethany hopes to raise enough funds by the end of this week to be able to write a book, Aperitifs & Sippy Cups: A European Adventure Guide for Families.

Check out her project here and find a way to support her efforts. She needs help to make this dream come true, but a little bit can go a long way!

And now, let’s get to the Italian Food!  When I saw Bethany’s recipe, I couldn’t wait to give it a try. I made it for dinner last night and this Torta al Formaggio was absolutely delicious!  Thank you Bethany – though I wish I could have you over for a good long chat, I am so happy to have you here on my blog today.

Perugian Cheese Bread: An Adopted Holiday Tradition

by Bethany Bassett

Raising children in a foreign culture presents some unique challenges. Since moving to Italy four years ago, we’ve had to learn through trial and lots of error how to do things as simple as filling out permission slips and as complex as getting internationally recognized birth certificates.  As much as I’d like to glide through the expat process gracefully, I’m building a nice collection of embarrassing stories along the way.  This life we’ve chosen isn’t easy, but it is rewarding, and I’m thrilled that my girls are growing up with a unique blend of American and Italian traditions.

During the holiday season, for example, we throw a Thanksgiving feast for friends . . . and then a week later, we’re off work with the rest of Italy for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We open presents under the tree American-style but linger over a Christmas breakfast of panettone and cappuccinos first. We try to catch New Year’s Eve footage from Times Square, and then we wait for Epiphany when the old Befana fills children’s stockings with sweets.

Our hodgepodge holidays hold dear memories for me, and every year as the weather turns, I look forward to baking seasonal goodies with the girls. They love rolling snickerdoodles in cinnamon sugar and accessorizing gingerbread men, but we never last long before mixing up a local specialty shared with us our first Christmas here: Perugian Cheese Bread.  No matter where our life takes us over the years, this will always be among our family favorites, a reminder of the rich mix of cultural traditions we’ve adopted as our own.

Torta al Formaggio

Perugian holiday cheese bread
(Makes 1 loaf)

Ingredients

1 ounce fresh compressed yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
A pinch of sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 cups finely grated hard cheese (usually Parmesan or a mix of Parmesan and Pecorino)
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3/4 cup of milk, room temperature
8 ounces Swiss cheese, cubed

Directions

Mash the yeast and sugar together with the back of a spoon and add a little milk to dissolve.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and grated cheese. Make a well in the center, and add the yeast and all the other ingredients. Knead the dough until springy, adding additional flour if needed.

Cover the bowl and leave in a warm, undisturbed location to rise for two hours.

Re-knead the dough briefly, cover again, and leave to rise for an additional half hour.

Punch the dough down and roll into a greased loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Farenheit and let the dough rise for another half hour. Put the loaf pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips of melted cheese and then bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until light golden and crispy on top. Let cool for half an hour, then slide a thin knife around the edges to dislodege the bread from pan. Serve warm with thinly sliced prosciutto, make ham-and-tomato sandwiches, or enjoy as is!

Have you ever incorporated other culture’s holiday traditions into your own?
What is your favorite holiday treat to make? 
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