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Panettone – sugar and spice and all things nice

November 28, 2011

PanettoneIn 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.

Panettoneadapted 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.

Dried fruit soaked in rum


100g sultanas
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

Ingredients and dough for panettone


  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Cover the bowl with cling film and prove at room temperature for around 45 minutes until slightly risen (but not doubled in size).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Best stored in a plastic bag; you can also wrap the loaves in foil and freeze them – removing in time for Christmas breakfast.Panettone

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.

Do pop over to Fresh From the Oven in a few days time to see how all the other bakers got on with this great challenge of Sarah’s.

What’s your favourite breakfast for a traditional or festive occasion?

  1. November 28, 2011 8:35 am

    Every Christmas, I think about making panettone, and I always chicken out. You might have convinced me to have a go this year – yours looks wonderful! Did you hang it upside down to cool?

  2. November 28, 2011 8:59 am

    No I didn’t because my recipe didn’t call for it. If you make one with your starter (I’m sure you’re braver than me) you probably want to do that to make the tall shape. It’s worth it for the beautiful aromas in the kitchen.

  3. November 28, 2011 10:17 am

    You did a good job by referring to the Bread baker’s apprentice. I have the same book but I looked up the recipe after I finished making my Panettone and it went all wrong. I see you substituted barm with instant yeast.

  4. November 28, 2011 10:36 am

    Beautiful and surely better as well as cheaper the store-bought ones!



  5. November 28, 2011 11:00 am

    I love the addition of the booze 🙂 I am going to make mine again with your additions!

  6. November 28, 2011 11:36 am

    Looks Beautiful!!!!!Thanks for dropping by:-)

  7. November 28, 2011 12:12 pm

    How boozy do I sound if I say anything with some alcohol in it sounds good to me? 😉
    I don’t think I’ve ever had Panettone! Must address this issue! I assume we can get some around in Dubai? Do let me know if you know where…would love to try.

  8. November 28, 2011 1:01 pm

    Booze makes all things nice a lot nicer ;o) Looks simply divine! Sally!

  9. November 28, 2011 1:01 pm

    Wonderful and I impressed that you have the proper tin too! I bet the house smelt divine!

  10. November 28, 2011 1:22 pm

    I was thinking of making Panettone for Christmas this year but I still needed to look for a recipe. I will definately try and make yours! It looks so festive on your table doesn’t it! Delicious pictures, Sally!

  11. November 28, 2011 1:34 pm

    I saw one only this weekend hanging off the finger of a smart couple nipping in to my Sicilian neighbour’s house and smiled at the thought that they were already circulating madly around. Yours looks super!

  12. November 28, 2011 1:38 pm

    I actually love panettone…I don’t know why people mock it so. I once ate this lovely panettone-like frosted german cake from a grocery back in the US, during Christmas season, and it totally hit the spot, and every other spot! I’m hoping you have slices of this leftover for the gingerbread session (HINT.)

  13. November 28, 2011 6:04 pm

    Your panettone looks absolutely divine 🙂 I still haven’t got around to making mine so fear I’m going to miss this month’s FFTO challenge (again, argh!). I’ve bought some beautiful little cases (£1.75 for 20!) and they are sitting on my kitchen sideboard making me feel guilty every time I see them. May have a go at making this weekend – even if I don’t make the challenge at least I’ll have some delicious Christmas presents.

  14. November 28, 2011 6:08 pm

    That looks wonderful, great texture! I remember reading that passage in Extra Virgin (or sequel), had forgotten about it. I rather like the boxed ones!

    Thanks for doing this month’s FFTO challenge!

  15. November 28, 2011 8:42 pm

    What a great story about how pannetone originated. Never tried it myself but if it’s Italian, I’m sure it must be good 🙂

  16. November 29, 2011 12:53 am

    Fabulous! We have panettone French toast every Christmas morning, and every year I think about how special it would be if that panettone were hand-made. Like some of your other commenters, I always chicken out. THIS will be the year! (I hope.)



  17. November 29, 2011 1:02 am

    Hurah! One of my (new) favorite things about Christmas: making Reinhart’s pannetone.

  18. November 29, 2011 1:53 am

    The bread looks beautiful!

  19. November 29, 2011 2:21 am

    This looks great! It’s really starting to feel like Christmas now 🙂

  20. November 29, 2011 2:28 am

    How funny, Sally – as I looked at the beautiful, glamorous boxes of panettone piled up in my local deli I just couldn’t help thinking that the cardboard promised so much more than the contents. I think you’ve finally changed my mind…

  21. November 29, 2011 5:19 am

    You’d better make a big one if you’re going to eat it all day — though I must admit it does goes well with coffee and all the spirits you mentioned.

  22. November 29, 2011 8:22 am

    This looks so delicious. Would love for you to share this with us over at

  23. November 29, 2011 2:15 pm

    Just like me after a mojito 😉
    I wanted mine to look like this – stuffed with fruits, but I see the fruits to flour ratio you did is higher than mine, I’m just making a note to myself to try it that way next time, and it would be pretty soon 🙂

  24. November 29, 2011 10:45 pm

    It looks great! 🙂
    I love how moist it looks, I bet it was very delicious 🙂

  25. November 29, 2011 11:03 pm

    Looks Lovely Sally. I so wish I’d had time to make one for this month…but I just don’t have the baking time at the moment. Plus our diet is a bit off-putting for all these delicious rich bakey things! I love that you used the Ikea cutlery tin too!

  26. November 30, 2011 8:32 am

    One of the best things about this time of year … panetone … yum!

  27. November 30, 2011 8:47 am

    Totally agree, the ready made store bought Panetone say nothing about the goodness of these gorgeous, tasty raisin studded loaves! In fact so many people think they don’t like Panetone, because they have only tried those sad versions of the actual thing… When done right, Panetone is a real treat. The recipe above sounds good, and amen to the plumping re-hydrated fruits 😉
    I also make a Panetone bread pudding, and use Panetone slices instead of bread, carrying it out as I would a traditional Bread and butter. The unique flavours of the Panetone make it very interesting and present a more playful version of bread and butter. I usually serve this for Christmas Dinner, next to my other christmas must have dessert ‘My Drunken Fruit Cake’… its ok to over indulge every now and again lol
    Loved the post Sally

  28. November 30, 2011 2:15 pm

    Raisin and dried fruit- I’ll eat it- what’s more the whole family including the girls will eat it. They don’t mind sweet ‘bits’ in food. I love the way it already feels so christmasy at My custard pie!

  29. November 30, 2011 6:40 pm

    This is so pretty. But I don’t know if it will convince me not to pop down to the Mediterranean wholesalers on Christmas eve in Melbourne and buy one of the ones in those gorgeous tins. or buff-coloured hat-boxes. Ahh – I’m such a slacker – and also a sucker for beautiful packaging!

  30. December 1, 2011 6:56 pm

    Looks beautiful Sally, thank you for taking part this month.

  31. December 1, 2011 10:08 pm

    I’ve entended to make panettone for years and have just never gotten around to it. This recipe looks like the perfect place to start! Thanks!

  32. December 12, 2011 1:58 pm

    Your panettone looks utterly tasty & just beautiful! It is a lot of work though!

    MMMMMMMMM,…Great as a special food gift! 😉


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