Saturday, December 24, 2011

Panettone: Classic Italian Flavour for Christmas

Michele Franzan, writer for Gola Gioconda, a Florentine food magazine, advises buying panettone from a first-rate baker. I am reminded of this wise advice preparing for wintertime Venice, where the scent of bakeries is filling the air with trails of scent which you have to follow through the small cobblestone alleys and the bridges over the canals. I will miss making it from scratch myself this year.

This succulent, but tricky to make, bread-pudding from Lombardy in Northern Italy is forever associated with Christmas preparations, ever since its humble origins at the Sforza times (Milanese rulers in the late 15th and early 16th century). An absentminded cook burnt the dessert for Christmas' Eve and in his mortification his assistant Toni suggested using the leftover dough with what was on hand at the moment: eggs, raisins, candied fruits, butter and sugar. The end result was lavishly compliment, but the cook recounted with humility that “L’è ’l pan del Toni” (It is Toni’s bread). This is most probably fiction, no less because Toni is such an Italian-American nickname, and theories abound on the origins of the word and the recipe (Among them “Pane di tono” from French the “pain de ton”, aka “rich people’s bread”, and the Milanese “panett”, from the “panett de butter” i.e. small pack of butter).

Whatever the reality is, there is no doubt that panettone is delicious in its pliable sponginess, its fresh flesh yielding under the teeth and its candied fruits and raisins tickling the palate into a panorama of flavour. It's a hard to resist delicacy, reminiscent of fragrance and in fact often standing in for one on the day one prepares it.The whole house fills then with the creamy scent of melted butter and the baking aroma of sugared fruits and eggs, the whole emitting its rich, inviting, comforting scent all around. This is one of the main reasons to bake your own, besides the industrial ready-made variety being not as fresh and possessing a slightly plasticky texture. In reality it's no harder than kneading and baking your own bread.

Panettone Recipe:

For the first rising:
5 ounces (140 g) fresh yeast cake(at the refrigerator section of good supermarkets and at the baker's)
3 1/3 cups (400 g) flour
3/8 cup (90 g) unsalted butter
5/8 cup (110 g) sugar
6 yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
4/5 cup (200 ml) tepid water

For the second rising:
2 1/3 cups (280 g) flour
5/8 cup (110 g) unsalted butter
7/8 pound (400 g) sultana raisins
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 yolks
A little flour for dusting the work surface and mold

The how to:
The evening before, melt the butter over a very low flame or a double boiler. Dissolve the sugar in about 2/5 cup (100 ml) of warm water (not too hot or it will kill the yeast, test with your hand). Put the melted butter, salt, and yeast cake in a mixing bowl. Next add the yolks and sugar, and sift in the flour without stopping whisking (It might take a tad more water at this stage). You want a smooth dough with plenty of air bubbles (too much whisking will burst them and it won't rise properly). Put it in a lightly floured bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel, and keep it warm (85 F, 30 C) for the night.

The next morning wash the raisins, drain them well, and set them on a cloth to dry.
The dough should have trippled in volume by now. Put on a working surface and add the flour, vanilla, yolks and honey. Knead with youy hands for about 20 minutes in all directions, then work in all but 2 tablespoons of the butter, which you will have melted as before, and a little water with a pinch of salt.
The dough will become shiny and will unstick: it's time to add the fruit. Divide into little balls that will later go into a baking tray (A pannetoni baking tray is best, but one for cake or for cupcakes will do in a pinch).

Take the balls of dough and put them in a warm corner, letting them rise again for 30 minutes. Grease your hands after they rise and gently put them into a baking tray (A panettoni baking tray is best, but one for cake or for cupcakes will do in a pinch). Leave them like that in a warm, humid corner for another 6 hours.

Heat the oven to 380 F (190 C). Cut an x into the top of each panettone and put 2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter over the cuts. Put them in the oven, and after 4 minutes, remove them and quickly push down on the corners produced by the cuts. Return them to the oven and bake them until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out dry.
When ready, cool the panettoni on a rack; they're ready to serve.You can decorate with sliced blanched almonds if you like, sticking them with a tiny bit of cake frosting, though I personally prefer not to.
Panettoni keep for a good two weeks in a large air-tight biscuit tin, though it's ever so better when fresh.

Bon appetit and Merry Christmas to you!



  1. Anonymous12:40

    You are inside my mind. I was looking for a good panettone recipe. I intend to try this for New Years. Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

  2. Excellent recipe! I'm definitely trying this today :)

  3. Anonymous19:48

    Have to admit that I'll be buying rather than baking, but just wanted to stop by to say Merry Christmas and thanks for all the great posts through the year.

    -- Lindaloo

  4. 30 Roses14:34

    I grew up eating my mother's homemade panettone, and after some years of making it by hand I adapted the recipe to my horizontal loaf bread machine. It comes out so good I've never gone back to making it by hand:
    Use settings for Sweet bread, medium darkness time and 1.5 lb. loaf; have a timer on hand.
    This cannot be used with Delay feature because of perishable ingredients.

    Put in the bread pan in this order:

    3/4 cup milk (use 2% or whole milk)
    3 large eggs
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup sugar
    3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    3 cups bread flour (not all-purpose)
    1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten (it needs this for structure; do not omit)
    2 teaspoons yeast.

    Start machine and set timer for 17 minutes (I add the fruit a bit earlier than the machine would normally beep me to add it in, for better mixing.)
    When the timer beeps, add:

    1 cup candied peel (you can include some candied pineapple with the regular peel to make it more interesting)
    1/2 cup raisins

    That is it! One last thing-- Take the panettone out of the machine promptly when it's done and cool it on a rack. Most breads can be left in the bread machine to cool with no harm done but panettone will get too dark/caramelized from residual heat in the machine (I learned the hard way.)

    Any questions about this, message me on Basenotes, POL or Fragrantica.

  5. 30 Roses14:45

    I really should add this:

    If you are using a vertical pan bread machine (i.e. tall loaf), try using the "Light" darkness setting instead of Medium, or you may end up with too thick/dark a crust.

    Also, as for all bread machine breads, the yeast is the instant kind (very fine, can be mixed with flour and does not need to be dissolved first)-- I buy it in a pack of (2) one-pound, vacuum sealed bricks at BJ's shopping club, where it is really cheap.

  6. 30 Roses,

    better late than never, but THANK YOU! for these fascinating additions regarding the recipe. It's very helpful indeed and I should try it out next time I'm baking. Can't wait to see how it turns out.

    Happy 2012!


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