Girlfriends: Cheesecake?

April 9, 2009 / Food & Wine
pizzaformaggio11What with the Easter holidays coming up, I decided to inquire with my girlfriends about the recipe of one of my favorite holiday treats. The pizza or torta al formaggio, literally cheesecake, is actually a savory panettone-like traditional bread baked this time of year in central Italy.

UUUUUEEEEEEEHEHHHHHHHHH!!!!!“, they harmonize in unison, hands rotating, waving the idea by. This translates roughly as “Yeah right! In your wildest dreams!”

Ah, no?“, I ask, obviously having overstepped some culinary boundary.

MACCHE’“!!” (Pshah! As if…!!)

I basically learn that to be done to the absolute minimum standards of taste, quality, and digeribilita’ (digestibility… don’t ask, we’ll cover this in a future note), requires at least a four hour process that includes repeated rising and deflating of the dough, double boilers, the right types of butter and lard, and special flour. And that’s assuming you have a flour/yeast culture that has been handed down from generations going back at least as far as the counter-reformation, as well as the knowledge of how that yeast behaves in temperatures as specific as every other decimal of a degree Celsius.

You think I jest… They began telling me how each of their own yeast derived bread doughs get moved around certain parts of the house/kitchen throughout the rising process.

“Yes, first I put it on top of the mirrored cupboard in the bathroom, which is close enough to the boiler but not too much that it expands too rapidly. This way it starts taking the taste (?!), then if its dry enough outside, I move it to the top of the refrigerator for another few hours.”

Another one compares her methods….”Then i run the dishwasher and when it’s done I keep its door open just so, with my wooden fork, and rest the dough half way across,” at which point I realize that even though they probably have no clue what isobar might be, their understanding of barometric pressures is probably superior to that of an expert meteorologist.

Fine then, I agree, I’m out of my league.

One of them does give me glimmer of hope. “There is something you can do if you’re really intent on serving pizza al formaggio for Easter…”

“Yes, yes?”, I ask with anticipation.

“Go down the street to the pasticcieria (pastry shop) and buy one!” she says as they all erupt into laughter and I realize that I’m today’s punching bag for four adorable Roman 80-plus matrons.


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

25 Responses to “Girlfriends: Cheesecake?”

  1. Shelly

    I love all your stories that involve your girlfriends. Have you ever posted a photo of them? I can visualize them in my mind while reading your stories. Grazie.

  2. Elizabeth Condelli

    Have you ever posted a picture of “the girlfriends”? I love when you write about them.

  3. louise

    Phooey! Was hoping for a doable recipe of this delicious Easter treat. Bless these old dears, and you for sharing your great encounters with them.

  4. jojo

    Iwould love to have the recipe…as a chef you never have enough of the real Italian (80 year old) recipes.

  5. Ahh – love your “girlfriends” – they must love to tease!

  6. anna marie gonnella rosato

    I love this one…so where’s the recipe?

  7. Gian Banchero

    We will all go on strike if you do not furnish us with the recipe!!! OK?

  8. Their responses remind me of my late grandma, always with the hands lol. Why not ask them to make pizza grana instead, another traditional Easter sweet, and much less time consuming…or strufoli?

  9. I wish I were close enough to be able to “Go down the street to the pasticcieria (pastry shop) and buy one!”

  10. Angelina Limato

    I have made Easter Bread but this is the first I have heard of this “cheesecake”. Would love to try it! I can see them moving the dough all over. The water here in Florida (USA) makes it hard to make really good Italian Bread but worth the effort. Would love to have my Great Grandmother’s brick oven she used to bake in. Love the ending to this and they seem quite spunky. Thanks for sharing. Have to go search for recipe and see what i find. Grazie!

  11. Elizabeth Condelli

    The girlfriends have a “dishwasher”?? What’s his name?

  12. Mary Petruccello

    Right now my Easter Bread dough is wrapped in some heavy duty towels, in my kitchen, so it shouldn’t catch a draft. Usually it is in the warmer back bedroom, now occupied by my godchild. I too have not heard of this “cheesecake”. The “girlfriends” remind me of my late mom and her cohorts. Of course they never measured–everything done by sight and feel!! Also, thank you for the earthquake relief info. My cousin lives in the area and sustained damage to his home. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt.

  13. Kathy Catrambone

    Please write a book about your 80-year-old girlfriends!!

  14. Elizabeth Condelli

    i agree with Kathy Catrambone. A book is in order! You are just the person to do it.

  15. Paul Huckett

    Yes , a book certainly ,but surely someone should capture these “Girlfriends ” on film for the future . Some of Italy’s cultural history resides in their stories and recipes and should be as well preserved as historical monuments !!

  16. Elizabeth Condelli

    I love it! Cast me as one of the girlfriends. Of course I want to be the youngest and the prettiest

  17. OK it seems we have a consensus and we all want the recipe. Even if the ‘girlfriends’ think it is beyond us!
    I also love these ladies and their stories. thanks

  18. Gian Banchero

    A note to Angelina Limato and her difficulty with Florida water… Whenever I make focaccie, Italian bread or pizze I’ve found that bottled imported Italian water works wonders. The carbonated product can be used right out of the bottle.


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