One of our readers recently commented on our Tuscan coffeecake post, as follows:
“Panettone is a holiday must - it has been part of my husband’s holiday tradition since he was a child. I have tried to make it for the past 4-5 years for the holidays but it never turns out quite right. Often it is too dry. I asked my husband’s aunt in Italy for a recipe. Although she makes just about everything, she said that panettone is the one thing she buys because it is difficult to make correctly. Looking forward to your panettone recipe and any tips you may have! -desperatelyseekingpanettone.”
Dear Desperate: My husband, too, is a panettone fanatic. When those bright blue boxes appear in the supermarket in early December, Rick always tries to sneak one into the shopping cart.
“We don't need that," I tell him. “I'll be making panettone in a couple of weeks.”
His face falls like a little boy who's just been told to return the box of Monster Choco-Crispy Nuggets breakfast cereal to the shelf. “But, this is the REAL panettone. From Italy. I like the real thing.”
Then I remind him that his non-panettone loving brother will, without fail, donate to him the “real Italian panettone” he gets every Christmas from his Italian boss.
“Yeah, but still...” He looks longingly at the box. I tug him along to the wine section to take his mind off panettone.
Because, let's face it: that imported Italian panettone isn't exactly fresh-baked. I mean, how far ahead do you think they bake those cellophane-sealed loaves? Two months? Six? And what exactly do they put in them to make them stay “fresh” on the trip from Italy to an American warehouse to the shelf of, say, Kmart, where they might enjoy an extended stay?
Wanna take a guess? Bet the ingredients list includes more than butter, sugar, eggs, and flour.
And anyway, I've always found imported panettone dry. I've heard that's the way it's supposed to be: better for dunking in your cappuccino that way. But we Americans equate “dry” with “stale,” when it comes to baked goods. The moister the fresher, the fresher the better, that's our mantra.
And that's where I come down with panettone. I like a nice, moist loaf. Oh sure, not like a box-mix butter cake, something so sodden it can barely hold itself upright. I mean... just right. Not sawdust-y, not wet, but combining elements of both dry and moist to arrive at a happy medium.
This panettone (she says immodestly) fills the bill.
A tad on the dry side, to satisfy those lovers of “real” Italian panettone and their cups of espresso, this bread is still moist enough to satisfy those of us with more American tastes. And speaking of taste, not for me the sticky citron and bitter dried peel of Italian panettone. Give me golden raisins and apricots and cranberries and pineapple any day. SO not traditional... but yummy. Go the peel route if your audience demands it.
One final note: I bow to Italy's superior panettone methodology in one respect: Fiori di Sicilia. Literally “flowers of Sicily,” this traditional panettone flavoring combines vanilla and citrus in an aromatic, Creamsicle-like fashion. Just a touch—1/2 teaspoon—in your American-Style Panettone is all you need to give a nod to Italy's “real” panettone.
Let's start with a starter. It's this overnight starter that helps keep your panettone fresh—not fresh for 6 months, but fresh on the counter, well-wrapped, for probably a week. Plenty long enough, if you have a panettone apprecianado in the house.
Notice that this starter—Italians call it a biga—is much stiffer than the normal starter you'd make with a pinch of yeast, and equal parts flour and water by weight. This one is 3 parts flour to 2 parts water (by weight), and stirs up into an actual dough, rather than a sticky starter.
Fourteen or so hours later (basically, from late afternoon to early the next morning), the starter has bubbled up and become much softer. That's the yeast, growing and giving off CO2, alcohol, and organic acids.
Mix the starter with the remaining dough ingredients, except for the fruit.
Use your mixer's beater paddle to bring everything together.
Then knead with a dough hook. Notice that this is a pretty sticky dough; it won't quite clear the sides of the bowl on its own.
About halfway through the kneading time, scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl, and continue to knead.
After 7 minutes (total), the dough may clear the sides of the bowl. Or it may look like this. Either way, it's fine.
You can also make this dough in your bread machine set on the dough cycle, of course. Scroll down (WAY down) to see photos.
Place the kneaded dough into the rising container of your choice. I like this 8-cup measure; it makes it easy to track the dough's rise.
Let the dough rise for an hour or so; notice it won't come anywhere near doubling in bulk. That's OK. The yeast is gradually finding its footing in this relatively high-sugar, high-fat dough.
Once the dough has risen, gently deflate it and knead in the dried fruit. I'm using dried cranberries, pineapple, apricot, and golden raisins.
A mixer equipped with the beater paddle works very well here.
Round the dough into a ball.
Hey, what's with the hole?! I find that baking the panettone in its traditional tall, round shape is problematic. The outside inevitably becomes dry and overly browned before the inside is totally baked. Solution?
A tube pan. Snuggle that doughnut-shaped panettone right down into a lightly greased tube pan.
Cover with plastic wrap. Or a throwaway shower cap from a hotel—that's what I'm using here. I ask all of the traveling folks at King Arthur to bring me back shower caps; they get a good workout in the kitchen. (The caps, not the travelers...)
About 2 1/2 hours later, the panettone has risen nicely. Yes, it is a slow riser; don't rush it. Just build it into your schedule, like you used to do with the baby's nap time.
Bake the panettone till it's a light golden brown...
...then tent it with aluminum foil, and continue to bake till the center registers 190°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Remove from the oven. While it's still warm, brush the crust with melted butter; a silicone brush does a gentle, thorough job. Again, not traditional—but definitely American. From corn-on-the-cob to pancakes to cinnamon bread, what do we NOT like to gild with melted butter?
Remove the panettone from the pan. If your audience is very traditional, serve sliced, so they don't see you've baked it in—horrors!—a tube pan.
Now, I know everyone will ask—can I bake it in a bundt-style pan? Yes, so long as it's large enough. A 9” to 10” pan should do the trick. How about baking it in a free-form wreath shape? I believe this dough is stiff enough, with the fruit, to handle that. It'll spread and flatten a bit rather than rise quite so high. And finally, if you insist on baking it in the traditional round, tall pan, go for it; you'll need to bake the panettone longer, and tent with foil if it appears to be browning too quickly. Check out our Ginger-Apricot Panettone recipe for baking instructions using a traditional pan.
Now, for the bread machine method. Put the dough ingredients, including the starter/biga, into the bucket of your machine. Press the start button. Here's the dough after 5 minutes.
Here it is fully kneaded, and ready to rise.
Here it is risen...
...and ready to knead in the fruit. Just press the start button again, and stop it once the fruit is kneaded in.
Want to make mini-panettones for gifts? Divide the dough into 10 pieces (about 4 ounces each), and shape each piece into a ball.
Place the balls in lightly greased mini-panettone paper bakers.
Let the panettone rise...
...and bake till golden. The instant-read thermometer will read 190°F (at least; it's OK if it goes a bit over). By the way, I like my Thermapen, because it really is INSTANT; no waiting around for the temperature to gradually stabilize.
Brush with melted butter.
Sweet little minis!
Feeling fancy? Tie a bow around them, slip into plastic, and hand out to your panettone-loving friends.
Read, bake, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for American-Style Panettone.
Buy vs. Bake
Buy: Imported Bauli panettone (via Amazon), 16-ounce loaf, $12.99; 81¢/ounce
Panera Cranberry-Walnut Panettone, 21-oz. loaf, $7.99; 38¢/ounce
Bake at home: American-Style Panettone, 43-ounce loaf, $7.44; 17¢/ounce