From our last recipe – Crepes From Brittany – to today’s recipe, a Corsican Caccavellu sweet bread. Yes, it’s quite a far stretch, with as many kilometers as there are cultural specificities that separate these two regions – which sit literally opposite on the French map.
But on many levels, they are not so different, if you ask me. Both the Brittany and Corsican people are known to be proud, tremendously proud, of their origins, dialect and people. Both deeply attached to their roots and unique cultural heritage, these regions are usually the most distant thought that France is known for outside of its borders (forget the Eiffel tower, fancy pastries and snail-like delicacies). Both Corsican and Breton cuisine – and landscapes – are wild, rugged and sourced from the root – wild shrubs, goats and pigs from the Corse Island. Salted sea, cows and pigs, for the Brittany side. And if you ask someone from either of these regional tribes if they are French, they will probably tell you they are Corsican or Breton, first and foremost.
With its soft texture, delicate notes of anise and licorice, and uncharacteristic appearance, the Caccavellu is deeply anchored into the rustic Corsican culinary landscape and is an inevitable Easter tradition. “Caccavellu” also known under the variations “caccavelli”, “caccaveddu”, “cacavellu” or “campanile di Pasqua”, which testifies of the eloquent multiplicity of Corsican dialects, still used nowadays.
Old Corsican tales say that this sweet bread marked the end of Easter Lent. The eggs not consumed during this period of fasting were used to create this dense and nutritious Caccavellu crown. And the odd tradition of placing whole hard eggs (in their shells) in the dough remained. The eggs are meant to be consumed by the children or during the traditional Easter Monday picnic, in the Corsican maquis shrubland.
With the Corse island being a land of pigs and bores, it is no surprise that most versions of the Caccavellu are made with lard as a fat base. Lard being a less common baking ingredient here in North America, I opted for vegetable shortening, which I believe produced a similarly rich, yet soft texture.
The traditional Caccavellu recipe also calls for Pastis, the famous Mediterranean anise liquor. But with this French staple being hard to find and pricey here in North America, I tweaked the recipe a bit and added instead two heaping teaspoons of freshly ground fennel seeds. The sweet, grassy flavor and delicate notes of licorice were just as fragrant and delicious. As simple and rustic as this recipe is, it truly makes for a perfect Easter Sunday Brunch delicacy – enjoyed on its own or with some butter and jam.
Corsican Easter Crown (Caccavellu)Print This
6 grams of yeast
2 tablespoon lukewarm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup white sugar
1 pinch of salt
¼ cup shortening (or ideally lard)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground fennel
In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and lukewarm water. Let it sit for 10 minutes, until it starts to foam.
In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Add in two eggs, the shortening, the vanilla extract, the ground fennel and yeast mixture. Mix it all together (by hand or in a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment).
Knead the dough for 10 minutes, until it is smooth and not sticky. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with a cloth, and let it rest for 2 hours, at room-temperature. After 2 hours, it should have doubled in size.
Pre-head your oven to 375°F. Prepare a sheet of parchment paper on a large baking sheet.
Place the ball of dough on a working surface and divide it in two equal parts. Shape each part into two long logs (about 2.5” wide). Twist the two logs together and shape them into a crown. Place a raw egg (whole, in its shell) in the crease of a twist (make sure it holds nice and tight in between).
Optional: Brush the crown lightly with some milk (for a golden, glossy finish).
Place the crown onto the baking sheet and place in the oven for 40 minutes. The raw egg will cook slowly and thoroughly.
Once lightly golden, take out of the oven and place on a cooling rack. Enjoy it warm or at room temperature.
Well wrapped in a cloth, the caccavellu can be kept up to 3 days.