Panettone – sugar and spice and all things nice
In her books about moving to deepest, rural Italy, Annie Hawes mentions the phenomenon of the cake-exchanging extravaganza at Christmas. She has a theory that the same few panettone circulate round the community, being given as gifts but never actually eaten. She’s alert to every new handing-over of this seasonal cake, notices that one box has a little biro scribble on it and traces its progress from house to house with concealed glee.
I’ll admit to having some empathy with this, as the grand pink and gold boxes of mass-produced panettone promise much but do not deliver. It would be wonderful to taste something worthy of this traditional cake from Milan. The most popular folk tale about its origins is that it was created by a humble baker named Antonio to woo the daughter of a rich merchant. In order to convince the father that he was fit to marry his daughter, he filled the bread with the baker’s equivalent of the gifts of the wise men: butter, brandied dried and candied fruits, nuts and sugar. The bread did the trick and not only did Tony get to marry his true love, the merchant set him up with his own bakery so he could continue to make this wonderful loaf, pane Tony. Alternatively there are references, as far back as the 1300s, to ‘pan dei ton’ which means ‘luxury bread’ in Milanese dialect.
Sarah, of Maison Cupcake threw down the gauntlet to make panettone for this month’s Fresh From the Oven Challenge. She looked through her entire cookery book collection (over 100 books) and found only two recipes, both of which sounded very good. I couldn’t resist having a little look through my own shelves and one recipe tempted me as it had an ingredient that the one from the Great British Bake Off did not – alcohol. Christmas cookery, for me, is made special by liberal sprinkling of exotic liquors and steeping fruits so they turn from their desiccated withered selves into plump, jolly little explosions of lusciousness.
Just like me after a gin and tonic.
Not having plain rum, brandy or schnapps, I decided that some golden Bacardi 8 year old would be just perfect. Orange oil was thin on the ground so in went a tablespoon of Cointreau. If you don’t like to use alcohol, you can use a tablespoon each of orange and lemon extract and about 100ml of water. Traditionally panettone is made with a wild yeast dough; this recipe is slightly less time consuming and uses the sponge method. Use any combination of dried fruit you like but I recommend homemade candied peel.
Wild Yeast has a lot more info about the proper way to make panettone (including diagrams and the reasons why Sarah’s recipe suggested she hang it upside-down with string!) I loved making these loaves – it was worth it for the heavenly scent of the house for days.
Panettone – adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
These are directions for using a stand-alone mixer with a dough hook (my KitchenAid) but you can do all the stages by hand. I find it easier to use a mixer when working with wet dough.
70g dried cranberries
170g candied fruit (homemade preferred)
120ml brandy, rum or schnapps (I used Bacardi 8 year old)
1 tablespoon of orange or lemon extract (or orange liqueur such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
120ml full-fat milk
65g plain flour
4 teaspoons instant dried yeast
285g plain flour (unbleached if possible)
1 tablespoon caster sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
grated zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 large egg
70g unsalted butter, at room temperature
approx. 60 ml water
Melted butter for topping
- Two days before you want to make the bread, soak the dried and candied fruits in the alcohol and citrus extract. Stir the mixture a few times a day until all the liquid is absorbed.
- When ready to bake, line two panettone or small tins with baking parchment. I used one 15cm (6 inch) tin and a stainless steel utensil holder from Ikea (brilliant suggestion from Sarah).
- Heat the milk until it is lukewarm (or blood temperature) and whisk in the flour and yeast. Cover with cling film and leave for about 1 hour or until the sponge is very foamy.
- Put the flour, sugar, salt, lemon zest and nutmeg into the bowl of the mixer. Use the paddle attachment to stir in the sponge, egg, and butter. Add the soaked fruit mixture and some extra water if necessary to form a soft, but not sticky, ball of dough. Cover the dough and rest for 10 minutes.
- Change to the dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes to make a soft, satiny dough (not too tacky or sticky). Add a little extra flour if necessary.
- Take the dough out and wash and dry the bowl, grease with little oil (I used almond) and roll the dough in the bowl to coat it.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and prove at room temperature for around 45 minutes until slightly risen (but not doubled in size).
- Divide the dough in half, shape into balls and place into the lined tins. You can cut a cross shape into the top if you like (easy with kitchen scissors). Cover loosely with cling film and leave to prove until just over double in size (about 1 hour at room temperature). Preheat the oven to 180 C.
- Bake the panettone for 20 minutes, then rotate the loaves and bake for another 20 – 30 minutes. The loaves should be deep, golden brown and sound hollow when knocked on the base. Remove from the oven and brush the tops with melted butter. Leave to cool completely before cutting.
Eat your panettone like the Italians do, for breakfast with coffee, throughout the day with Marsala or Vin Santo, or after dinner with a sparkling Moscato or Prosecco. It’s also very good as French toast or in bread and butter pudding.
What’s your favourite breakfast for a traditional or festive occasion?