An Italian bread, traditionally served at Christmas as a cake. Made with eggs and various dried fruits, this is a deliciously light yellow bread with a thin crust. The Italians usually eat it on its own with espresso coffee, but Americans seem to treat it as a bread and use it as such, thus probably missing out on most of the taste.

Panettone rises dramatically during cooking so that when it is finished, it should be cylindrical, vaguely tapering toward the top. It should be cut into eight or ten equal slices radially at the top, and these should be pulled down together on a large plate to form a star shape. Shop-bought loaves should already be cut in this way. Panettone loses its taste quickly and should ideally be eaten on the day of serving. This is typically not a huge problem, since it is very light and delicious.

Origins of Panettone

There are a number of stories surrounding Panettone's origins, a few of which I have outlined here.

The star-crossed baker

This is one of the most famous stories, and involves a young baker who had fallen in love with his stern employer's daughter, but knew that he would never be allowed to marry her due to his low social status. He worked feverishly to create a new sweet bread with fruit in it. He also enlisted some friends to ask his employer, Toni, for a sweet bread, which he found that his employee had made. It was an instant success. The young employee, however, did not take the credit for this new 'pan ad Toni' ('Toni's bread'), but instead became an adopted family member and married his love.

The other 'name pun' story

This one is much simpler. Toni was a poor baker who worried about his sales. He added dried fruit and sugar to his bread dough, and his 'pan ad Toni' was an instant success.

A lazy baker named, you guessed it, Antonio.

Antonio was mixing some dough in his bakery, when in dropped a bowlful of dried fruit and sugar he had been keeping for a cake. 'Oh well', he said, and continued with the bread. The next day, his customers bought their daily bread, little suspecting the surprise inside. It was a huge success, and Antonio was swept off his feet keeping up with demand for 'the bread of Antonio' that he could no longer be lazy.

The inevitably more likely, but much less romantic story

From the 10th century, a popular Christmas tradition in Italy was that of the 'pan grande', a large loaf shared round to simulate communion among families. Later on, some enterprising housewife (for such are all the great advances of the home made) added small pieces of fruit and sugar to improve the taste, and a legend was born.

Panettone was traditionally a Milanese speciality until the turn of the century when Angelo Motta and Giovacchino Alemagna marketed and distributed the cake all over Italy and then the world.


This is a fairly difficult recipe and one that I have not tried, however I have reproduced it here for the adventurous. I would strongly suggest the indulgence of importing an Italian loaf to taste it first, though.


For the first rising:

  • 6 oz (150g) frest yeast cake
  • 4 cups (400g) flour
  • 3/8 cup (90g) unsalted butter
  • 5/8 cup (110g) sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water
For the second rising:

The afternoon before embarking on this great adventure, melt the butter over a low flame, keeping it warm enough to stay melted. Dissolve the sugar in 3/8 cup (100ml) of warm water. Mix the melted butter, salt and yeast cake in a bowl, stirring energetically as you add the yolks and sugar water before sifting in the flour. Mix this energetically for about 25 minutes, or use a mixer, until the dough is smooth and porous. When you've acheived this, put it in a lightly-floured bowl lerge enough for the dough to triple in volume (I told you it rose dramatically), and keep it in a warm (85F/30C) place for 10 hours. Get some well-earned rest: you'll need it.

Wake up! Remember that dough? Brace yourself. Wash the sultanas, drain them well and leave them somewhere safe. Dice, but don't mince, the citrus peels. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and work in the flour, vanilla essence and honey. Beat it, hard for about half an hour before adding most (all but two tablespoons) of the butter, which you should melt as before, and the water, to which you should add the salt. Continue working the dough until it's shiny and dry (definitely a job for the mixer; this could take another 20 minutes!) then add the fruit and work it in. You can now divide the dough into the size you want, remembering if you judge by weight that they'll lighten by 10% during baking.

Give your hands a bit of a greasing with the butter and round the balls of dough, putting them on a warm board or plate to rise for about half an hour. Make sure your hands are lightly greased and add them to panettone moulds, or put rings around their bases. Put them back on the board and allow to rise at a temperature of 68-80F (20-30C) in a humid environment for 6 hours. I told you this was difficult.

Pre-heat the oven to 380F (190C). Cut a largish 'x' into the top of the loaf and put 2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter over the cuts. Put them in, but don't leave them. After four minutes, quickly push down on the 'x'. Bake until a skewer put into the middle of the loaves comes out dry, cooling on a rack. Serve once cool, or store for a special occasion, remembering to eat it on the day of serving to preserve the best taste.

If anyone should be adventurous enough to try this, please /msg me with stories of success or failure. And don't be disappointed if it doesn't work, it's a tough recipe. I may endeavour to create a loaf, and will post sad stories of despair here as that happens. - this also has an online ordering facility. I recommend the ones in red.

Mortice's wu gives you a great background on panettone and a recipe I haven't tried. I thought I'd pass along my recipe, which I've successfully made several times. Most recently, Monday. I find it a very straightforward process, and not particularly difficult, just time consuming. Although, I suppose it does help if you're familiar with baking bread.

This recipe takes several hours of fermentation time, and the fruit needs to soak 8 or so hours before use, so start this in advance! Total time after soaking the fruit: ~7.5 - 8 hours

Special requirements:

  • A heavy duty stand mixer with a dough hook. The dough is extremely sticky. It's possible to mix it by hand, but it's really much faster and easier to use a mixer.
  • A 10-inch spring form or false bottomed pan, or 2 8-inch pans. There is some flexibility here. A 9'' pan will lead to a taller bread, etc. Also, if you butter the pan well, you don't really need a spring form. The bread won't stick to the pan at all. The spring form is simply because they are taller than most cake pans (3"). You can use a special panettone mold, but as with any modification of shape/size be prepared to adjust the baking time. You can also buy disposable paper ''pans'' which are really more like tall paper collars that have a bottom to hold the whole thing together. This recipe would be sufficient for about 3-4 4.5'' paper pans.
3/4 - 1 cup seedless raisins
3/4 - 1 cup dried figs, cut up into small pieces
optional1 cup cooked chestnuts, cut up into small pieces; half a cup of candied citron in small pieces; also consider experimenting with other nuts, such as sliced almonds or pecans broken into pieces, and other fruit such as dried cranberries.
3/4 - 1 cup brandy
3/4 c. milk
1 tbsp. active dry yeast, not the rapid rise stuff. This is about 1/5 more than a standard envelope of yeast. I buy Hodgson Mills' yeast, an envelope of which comes to exactly 1 tablespoon (8.75g).
3/4 c. (4oz.) all purpose white flour
9 tbsp. (4.5oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs (ideally, room temp.)
4 egg yolks (ideally, room temp.)
1/2 tsp. salt
3-4c (15-20oz.) all purpose white flour
additional softened unsalted butter, about 4-6 tbsp.

Advance preparation: 8 hours
Mix the dried fruit with the brandy and let it soak overnight or longer. I stick it in a large glass jar and turn it once in a while. When ready to use, drain the fruit of any syrup prior to mixing into the bread dough. Reserve the syrup for the next time you have a dish of vanilla ice cream....

Starting the sponge: 1 hour
Mix the milk, yeast and 3/4c. flour in a bowl until it forms a smooth, slightly elastic batter. Cover with a plate or something so it doesn't dry out, and set it in a warmish place to ferment for about an hour. It should be puffy and have swelled after the hour. If it hasn't, there's something wrong with your yeast and you'll need to start again.

Mixing the dough: 30min. + 2.5 hours
In your heavy duty mixer's bowl, beat the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment until they are well mixed. Add the sponge, eggs and yolks, salt, and vanilla extract, and beat until well mixed, about 5 minutes. If the eggs were cold, the butter will firm up and be difficult to mix in. Once it's well beaten, gradually add about 1-1.5c. flour. Be careful, as it will want to fly out of the bowl with the action of the beaters. Beat until it is completely incorporated and smooth. Remove the paddle and attach the dough hook.

Gradually add most of the rest of the flour, again exercising care as it will want to fly out of the bowl. Reserve about 0.5-1 cup. Beat at medium speed for 12+ minutes, until the dough is smooth, elastic, and the gluten is very well developed. Do not skimp on the mixing time, as most of your kneading is done here, and this is what makes or breaks a light loaf.

Push the dough down the dough hook into the bottom of the bowl and add the drained fruit and any nuts, etc. Slowly start the mixer back up again, and beat on medium for about another 2-3 minutes until the additions are thoroughly incorporated into the dough. It'll look messy at first, just give it time.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands, knead it for a few minutes until you have a smooth dough that's not overly sticky on first contact. It will be sticky if you let it sit even briefly and the flour soaks in, but it won't feel sticky if you handle it with floured hands. Knead in a little extra flour to get to this point if necessary, but keep in mind that less is more. The extra flour is really in case the fruit made the dough too wet.

Taking some of the extra butter, generously grease the mixing bowl. Form the dough into a tight ball and rub butter over the top of it. Place it into the bowl, cover with a damp cloth or a plate so it doesn't dry out, and put the whole thing in that same warm spot for about 2.5 hours.

Shaping and proofing: 10min + 2.5 hours
After the first rise, the dough should be soft, light and have about doubled in size. If it has done so too quickly, your rising spot is too warm. Proceed immediately or place the dough in a cool spot until you're ready to shape it.

Grease your baking pan(s) generously with butter, paying special attention to the corners, and making sure to go all the way up the sides. Omit this step if you are using paper.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead it a little to push out any big bubbles. If you are using more than one pan, divide it into equal portions. Knead until smooth again, and press into the buttered pans, making sure any seams or wrinkles are on the bottom. Press the dough as close to the sides of the pan as possible, but don't worry if it doesn't quite make it. The dough should be extremely elastic and resist spreading.

Cover again to prevent drying out, and place it in a warm spot for about 2.5 hours or until the dough has almost risen to the edge of the pan. Use your judgement if you've used a differently shaped pan or if your rising spot is colder or warmer than . Too long, and the yeast may poop out, too short and the dough will be dense. Expect it to at least double in height from when you pressed it into the pan.

About 45 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven to 400°F with the rack in the middle. Use a baking stone if you have it, and, if so, make sure to pre-heat for the full 45min.

Baking: 40-50min. variable
I don't score the top of the loaf, but if desired, you can cut an X into the top of the loaf with a sharp knife or razor blade just prior to baking. Go about 1/2" deep.

Bake the loaf for 20min. and then tent a piece of foil over the loaf so it browns more slowly. Bake for about another 20-30 minutes until a wooden toothpick poked into the middle comes out clean and the top is a rich dark golden brown.

Brush the top thoroughly with butter (you can melt it first and use a brush, but I don't bother, I just rub the stick gently over the surface and let the residual heat do it for me) and place on a rack to cool. Wait at least 20min to unmold it so it can complete cooking with residual heat and so it doesn't dry out. Let it cool completely before serving, again so it doesn't dry out.

When serving, cut in a broad sawing motion with a serrated knife and avoid compressing the loaf. It keeps for several days, so store at room temperature, and make sure to cover any cut edges so they don't dry out. I generally just flip it so the cut edge is down against the plate. This bread is good as is, but also quite nice toasted. It's rich and lightly sweet, so it needs no butter or jam, although you could use them if you wanted to. I personally find it unnecessary. Goes excellently well with tea or coffee. And, in the unlikely event you should have any go stale, just imagine the french toast or bread pudding it could make.

Incidentally, my hands smelled most scrumptiously of butter for hours as I was making this on Monday.

Recipe adapted from Bread Alone by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik, William Morrow and Co., New York, 1993.

also posted by me today at Molly's Cauldron LJ community.

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