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:
For the second 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
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.
http://www.capriflavors.com/panettone.php - this also has an online ordering facility. I recommend the ones in red.