Panettone is the ultimate Italian Christmas enriched bread. It’s more than a cake or a brioche, it is a piece of our culinary history and no Italian would dream of not slicing into this delectable treat at Christmas time. However it has to be sad, most Italians buy Panettone from reputable bakeries or pasticceria, the reason being that is it mind-blowingly laborious to make. But, you know me, the baking addict, no challenge is too scary for this fearless baker!
I don’t mean to write this to discourage you from trying, but I do feel it is important to issue a warning with the release of this recipe: it is for advanced bakers only, those who understand gluten, how the bonds develop and how butter, eggs and sugar work together to create a rich dough. Also, for those who own a sturdy standing mixer!
For this reason, I have not translated my measurements in cups or oz, as I only ever work in grams and ml when it comes to this creation, and I would hate for things to get lost in translation.
Christmas is 4 sleeps away… are you ready for the challenge?
Step 1 – making the ferment
1 x 7 g sachet dried yeast
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
4 tablespoons plain flour
grated zest of 1 mandarin
Dissolve the yeast in the water and stand for 5 minutes. Add the flour and mandarin zest and mix well. Rest the soft dough at room temperature, well covered with a tea towel, for 11/2– 2 hours or until it looks bubbly and it has doubled in size.
Step 2 – Building the dough
the ferment from step 1
150 ml water, at room temperature
100 g plain flour
Work the ferment with the water, then mix in the flour with your hands or a wooden spoon until combined. Cover with a tea towel and rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
Step 3 – Building the dough
the dough from step 2
5 tablespoons caster sugar
100 g plain flour
80 g softened unsalted butter
If you have a stand mixer, you might want to get it out now. The next two stages require a lot of strong kneading and I would never attempt this by hand. Mix the dough from step 2 with the sugar, then add the flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Add the butter and knead for a further 2 minutes. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and rest at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours or until it has doubled in size.
Step 4 – Building the dough with the addition of flavourings
the dough from step 3
100 g mixed sultanas, currants and raisins
1/2 cup (125 ml) water
3 tablespoons rum
300/350 g plain flour (according to the size of your eggs. Start with 290 gr, then add more if needed)
120 g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey
60 g softened butter, cut into cubes
grated zest of 1 orange
grated zest of 1 mandarin
100 g mixed candied peel, mixed with 1 tablespoon plain flour (to stop them dropping to the bottom of the cake)
Soak the sultanas, currants and raisins in the water and rum for 1 hour. Drain, discarding the soaking liquid.
Add 300 g flour to the rested dough and knead on low speed for 1 minute, then add the sugar, vanilla and honey and knead for a further 3–4 minutes. Add the butter, a little at a time, until well incorporated, then add the eggs, one at a time, kneading all the while. Don’t panic if the dough looks really wet at this stage – the constant kneading will make it come together. Knead in the mixer for a further 15–20 minutes (see why you’d never this by hand?) or until it looks transparent if stretched. If it struggles to come together as it is too wet, add the remaining flour, a little a time, until the dough is smooth and soft, but not sticky.
Add the grated zest, mixed peel and soaked sultanas, currants and raisins, and gently mix to incorporate them into the dough.
Tip the dough onto your cooking bench, then fold it into three and onto itself to shape a ball. Put it in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and rest for 1 hour.
Place the dough on a floured surface and stretch it gently with floured hands to form a rectangle and fold it into three. Shape it back into a ball and rest it in the oiled bowl, covered, until it has doubled in size, approximately 2–3 hours.
Stretch and fold the dough one last time, then put it into the mould or tin you wish to bake it in. I order my supply of panettone moulds online, but you can also use a round cake tin. Grease it and flour the tin and line the sides with a 10–12 cm tall collar of baking paper. Rise at room temperature until risen by 2/3, then place the mould or tin in the fridge overnight, well tucked under a tea towel. Alternatively, put the tin in a plastic bag and put the whole bag in the fridge to prove. I often do this with bread too – it’s like a homemade proving cell!
Naturally, once it’s proven by 2/3, you could bake it straight away (Step 5-6), however slow fermenting the dough in the fridge overnight gives it a better texture,
Step 5 – Scoring and baking (finally!)
The dough, well risen in its mould
20 g softened unsalted butter
Confidence! You are nearly there …
Preheat your oven to 180 C.
Take the panettone out of the fridge. Rest it at room temperate for 1 hour. (If you didn’t rest your panettone in the fridge overnight, you can get to the scoring straight away without having to rest it further).
Using a sharp knife or a razor blade, gently score the top in an X-shaped pattern. Be very careful not to score too deeply or you will risk deflating the dough! With the aid of your blade, lift up four flaps and place a teaspoon of butter under each. Close the flaps.
If this method scares you, simply slash a large X on the top and place a large knob of butter in the middle. The outcome will be just as good.
Step 6 – Cooling
Gently transfer the panettone to your oven and bake for 45–55 minutes or until evenly risen and the colour of dark caramel. A wooden skewer inserted in the centre should come out moist, but not doughy. If it looks like it’s browning too fast, cover it with baking paper, but keep in mind that the crust is supposed to be quite dark.
Take the panettone out of the oven. If using a metal tin, let the bread cool completely on a wire rack slicing and serving.
If using a panettone mould, pierce two long metal skewers or knitting needles all the way through the panettone and through the paper. Hang the panettone upside-down over a large stockpot or between two objects of equal height. Cool it for a minimum of 6 hours.
Although a bit finicky, drying and cooling your panettone this way will ensure it keeps its dome-shaped beauty and the roof will not collapse. You have come this far, you might as well go the full distance!
Panettone will keep fresh for 1-2 days and will still be delicious toasted and dusted with icing sugar after 4–5 days. It also freezes well and can be used as a base for bread and butter pudding, tiramisu and trifle.