Panettone

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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

2 tablespoons caster sugar

90 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

290/320 g plain flour (according to the size of your eggs. Start with 290 gr, then add more if needed)

100 g sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons honey

60 g softened butter, cut into cubes

3 eggs

grated zest of 1 orange

grated zest of 1 mandarin

80 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 290 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. Place the mould or tin in the fridge, 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!

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 200°C (180°C fan-forced).

Take the panettone out of the fridge. 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 in the pan before 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.

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Merry Christmas!

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Gluten-free Lemonade Cakes (Tortine alla limonata senza glutine)

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Serious gluten allergies affect so many people these days that the need for creating options that cater for them is necessary and, quite honestly, a challenge I am ready to embark upon with enthusiasm. Whether you are celiac or just not a fan of wheat and its derivates, I have high hopes you will enjoy biting into these bubbly, moist cakes, perfumed with tangy lemonade and a hint of vanilla. By the way, they are also dairy free, just saying’….

INGREDIENTS, makes 8-10 mini cakes using a muffin tin

3 eggs

3/4 cup of brown sugar

1/2 cup olive oil

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, paste or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean

3/4 cup fizzy lemonade

2-1/4 cup of  gluten free self-raising flour

1 cup of icing sugar (confectioner sugar) mixed with a few teaspoons of lemon juice to make the lemon icing

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Line a medium sized muffin tin with wrappers (I used an 8 hole jumbo muffin tin)

3. Beat the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy and the sugar crystals have dissolved

4. Add oil, vanilla, and lemon zest and mix well.

5. Add the lemonade and gradually incorporate the flour, beating gently, until a wet batter is formed

6. Pour the batter into the muffin tin making sure not to fill to the rim as the cakes with grow a lot whilst baking

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through if tested with a skewer

8. Cool at room temperature. When cooled, drizzle the lemon icing on top and allow 10-15 minutes to set before serving out

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Easter Dolls (Pupe di Pasqua)

My fondest Easter morning memory takes me back to Italy, to being a child, to being with Nonna Irene. Every Easter she used to make Pupe di Pasqua (traditional Abruzzese Easter Dolls) out of pastry, for us children to dunk in our bowl of milk on Easter morning. Me, my sister Ale and my cousin Elena would be the lucky recipients of lovely peasant girl-like dolls while my brother Giammarco and my cousin Giorgio would devour their horse-shaped dolls in no more than a few bites. As if part of some gruesome tribal ritual, the heads would be the first to go, leaving our dolls bearing a vivid resemblance to Anne Boleyn! And so, it is now my pleasure to pass on such precious legacy and make dolls for my children. Following the family tradition, the doll received the Henry the VIII treatment…

INGREDIENTS

3 eggs

3 tablespoons of olive oil (or EVOO)

4 tablespoons of sugar

75 gr (2/3 cups) almond flour

finely grated lemon zest

150 gr (1-1/3 cups)  flour, well sifted

100 gr (3/4 cup)  of self-raising flour, well sifted

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract

1 egg+2 tablespoons of milk for the glaze

HOW TO

1. Whisk the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy. Pour in the oil, add the zest and mix well with a wooden spoon.

2. Slowly add the almond flour and the self-raising flour to obtain a dough that is just slightly softer than short pastry. Wrap it in plastic film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3. Turn the oven on to 170 C (340 F)

4. Line an oven tray with baking paper. Craft the doll according to your esthetics straight onto the tray. Glaze it with the egg and milk wash and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!

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Easter Scrolls and Hot-Cross Buns!

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As the Holy Week marches on, I feel the urge to get my hands in more festive doughs! What could be better than home-made hot cross buns and scrolls? With the warm tang of cinnamon, the liveliness of orange peel and the opulence of chocolate, they are definitely going to be on offer at my Easter table this year.

Ingredients

For the ferment:

1 tablespoon of dry yeast

150 ml (2/3 cup) ml lukewarm milk

1 tablespoon honey

100 gr (3/4 cup+1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Dissolve the yeast in milk. Stand for 5 minutes then add the other ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until well incorporated.

Cover with a tea towel and rest for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size

Dough:

Risen ferment

250 gr (2 cups) of all-purpose flour

50 gr (1/4 cup) of soft butter, cubed

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground clove

100 (1/2 cup) gr of sugar

1 egg

3 tablespoons of floured, mixed peel

3 tablespoons chocolate chips

Criss-Cross dough

4 tablespoon of flour

2 tablespoon of water

Mix together of form a soft, pliable dough

Egg wash

1 egg+2 tablespoon of milk

Beat egg with milk and brush on the buns just before baking

Glaze

1/3 of a cup ml of milk, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Simmer of milk with 2 sugar and  cinnamon.

Stir until sugar is dissolved and the glaze is slightly reduced.

How to

1. In a large bowl, or using a stand mixer, add flour to the ferment, then the butter, a little at a time, the spices and the sugar. The dough will be a little dry at this stage.

2. Add 1 egg and knead for 15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and silky and is see-through if stretched with your fingers. Shape the dough into a ball and rest, covered with a tea towel for 20 minutes.

3. Stretch the dough with floured hands to shape a rectangle.

4. Sprinkle the surface with mixed peel and chocolate and roll the dough tightly, as if rolling up a cigar. Shape back into a ball and leave to prove in a floured bowl for 2-3 hours.

5. Stretch the dough one more time, fold it into three then shape into a log. Cut the log into 6. Shape 3 pieces into long ropes, roll them up to resemble snails and leave them to rest onto an oven try lined with baking paper. Shape the remaining 3 pieces into balls and place them next to one another on the oven tray.

6. Make the paste for the crosses. Roll it up and place on top of the balls in a criss-cross patters.

7. Leave to prove for 45 minutes.

8. Heat your oven to 180 C (340 F)

9. Glaze the buns and the scrolls with egg wash and bake for 20/25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

10. While the oven does its job, make the milk glaze.

Take the buns and scrolls out of the oven, brush the milk glaze over them and allow to cool on a rack, at room temperature.

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Happy Easter!

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