What is Panettone?
If there’s one thing on our minds when thinking about Italy during the festive period, it’s the iconic panettone. This sweet, buttery bread’s signature soft dough is dotted with plump, rum-soaked dried fruit and a fragrant essence of zesty lemon and orange as you slice into it. Recognisable by its tall stature and domed top, panettone finds its origin in in the capital of the Lombardy region, Milan and has been synonymous with the festive season for centuries. Its name comes from panetto, which translates to ‘small loaf cake’ with the suffix ‘-one’ added onto the end which changes its meaning to ‘large cake’.
Panettone is traditionally made using candied orange peel, sultanas or raisins, the zest of citrus fruits and vanilla, however, with its popularity reaching a global level an array of ingredients can be found to flavour panettone including nuts, chocolate and even limoncello!
Patience is a Christmas Virtue
Unsurprisingly, this quintessential Italian festive bread, it is also a real labour of love, made in stages and requiring a whole host of patience… but trust the process, if you can make this bread, you can make any bread there is, no question!
The first caveat is that to make authentic Italian panettone you will need an established sourdough starter, known as the sapore madre or lievito madre in Italian, which gives that irresistibly soft and slightly moist texture to the panettone dough. Creating a starter is not a short process, needing at least a week or two to mature. If you have friends who love baking bread, it’s worth asking if you can take a small sample of theirs after which you can continue to ‘feed’ it, creating your own! Or pop down to your local bakery and see if they would consider giving some away.
The second caveat is that with a lot of resting and rising time required, this bread takes around 2-3 days to make from start to finish depending on the temperature of the room ( and not including making the starter of course!). If you decide to take on this baking challenge, we take our Italian hats off to you and can confirm you will be rewarded with what we think is the BEST festive panettone ever.
Final caveat, although it is possible to make panettone by hand, there is a lot of kneading involved so prepare yourself if you don’t have a standing mixer!
- Panettone baking case
- Wooden skewers (to let the panettone cool hanging upside down to avoid collapsing)
- Standing mixer with dough hook attachment
Makes 1 medium panettone (750g) but you can easily double or triple the recipe
- 170g strong white flour
- 55g caster sugar
- 60g sourdough starter (lievito madre)
- 35g lukewarm water
- 3 egg yolks
- 60g softened butter
- 40g strong white flour
- 40g caster sugar
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract (or 1tsp vanilla bean paste)
- The zest of 1 lemon
- The zest of 1 orange
- 15g honey
- ½ tsp salt
- 30g lukewarm water
- 3 egg yolks
- 100g of raisins or sultanas (you can pre-soak these in rum if you so desire or use chocolate chips!)
- 100g mixed candied peel
- Icing sugar (for dusting)
- Starting with your ingredients from stage 1, mix the flour, sugar, sourdough starter, water and egg yolks in a large bowl until a dough starts to form. **As previously mentioned, this can be done by hand but is a lot easier and less messy in a standing mixer with a dough hook, as the dough is quite sticky.
- If doing by hand, knead in the bowl (with elbow grease!) for around 10-15 minutes until the gluten is activated and the dough begins to feel elastic.
- At this point you can add the softened butter, kneading it in until fully incorporated into the dough (around 7 mins). Your dough should now start to look beautifully silky.
- Transfer the dough into a clean bowl, cover with cling film and prove until tripled in size. Depending on the temperature of the room this can take from 10-12 hours to 24 hours. (This is where patience comes into play!)
- Once it has reached the correct size, you can now begin to add the stage 2 First, thoroughly incorporate the flour, sugar. Next, add in the zest, honey, salt and water and mix again. Once this is done, add in the egg yolks and mix.
- Knead in the bowl (again, with vigour!) for another 10-15 minutes
- Once the dough is sufficiently kneaded (and passes the windowpane test), incorporate the butter (like in stage 1), continuing to knead for another 5-7 minutes.
- Finally add in your chosen edible jewels (raisins, sultanas, chocolate chips, candied peel), folding the dough until you’re certain all the fruit is evenly distributed.
- At this point you need to prepare your panettone case by sliding the two skewers along the base of the parchment case, evenly apart – this is important for when cooling the panettone upside down.
- Turn the dough out onto an oiled surface (you can use butter too) and shape into a taught boule, ensuring it will hold its shape. Then transfer into the panettone case *The oil/butter will likely be absorbed quite quickly so it’s best to do this as quick as you can!
- Another proving session! This will take a further 12-18 hours (nearly there! Don’t give up!). The dough needs to prove until doubled in size or passing the halfway mark in the panettone case.
- Once it has finished its second prove, preheat the oven to 220 degrees. For the traditional panettone alla Milanese score the panettone with a large X using a large knife and place a knob of butter in the very middle.
- Just before putting the Panettone in turn down the oven to 180 degrees. Bake for about 60 minutes (give or take 10 minutes each side). After half an hour, if it begins to get too dark, you can further turn down the oven or place a cup of water (bain marie) in the bottom of the oven for some extra moisture.
- Due to the impressive height of the panettone, it cannot support its own weight when cooling. Therefore, this is when the skewers inserted to the bottom of your panettone come in handy.
- Using two ledges of the same height (ie. Two stacks of books, two chairs etc.) balance the skewers on these so that the panettone is suspended upsidown. Leave to cool for minimum 4-5 hours, or overnight.
- Once cooled, sprinkle with a generous amount of icing sugar and cut a well-deserved LARGE slice. Buon appetito!
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