Panettone – Italy’s festive bread

I had made my love for bread known in one of my earlier blogs in which I wrote about the Czech sweet pastry called Trdelnik.  This time, it is all about the Italian festive bread called Panettone.

What does Christmas mean to you? To me, Christmas is all about festivities , about holidays and having your near and dear ones around you, about magic in the air, about Christmas tree with stars and decorations and gifts underneath, about laughter of children, about the nip in the air and last but not the least – Christmas cakes and bakes! Yes, I love the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg and rum soaked fruits that fills your home at this time of the year. Every country has its own sweets and treats specially made during Christmas. If you happen to visit Italy around this time of the year, all the bakeries and cake shops would be selling this sweet fruit bread called Panettone, which has become a symbol of Christmas in Italy.

Panettone is a sweet cylindrical or dome shaped bread loaded with rum soaked dried fruits and  candied peels. Panettone, a speciality of Milan, can take several days to prepare just like a sourdough bread. A vertically cut wedge  of Panettone is usually served with a hot cup of cafe latte or cappuccino. Italians will tell you that it also goes well with glass of sparkling wine. If to be eaten like a dessert, you can serve it with Mascarpone cream. Which ever way you eat it, it tastes delicious !

It is said that Panettone has noble birth and there are many legends explaining its birth. The most popular one dates back Panettone to 1400 where a nobleman by the name of Ughetto fell in love with a poor baker Toni’s (after whom the bread is named) beautiful daughter Andalgisa. To win Andalgisa’s love, Ughetto started to work in the bakery. He tweaked the recipe of Toni’s bread by adding some butter, eggs and raisins. The bread become a hit and the bakery started doing well. Ughetto entered Andalgisa’s good books and they got married and lived happily ever after.  And there are many such legends.

There is  now a festival held in Milan called Re Panettone, in which the best hand crafted panettone is awarded. Not only that, they have also introduced certification for the all the handcrafted cakes participating in the competition.

To make panettone, the candied citrus peels, sultanas, raisins, currants and almonds are soaked in citrus juices and rum. Instead of fresh yeast, classic bakeries in Italy use a starter dough or a preferment to make this bread. Some bakeries have maintained this starter dough since as long as 50 years! This dough is the secret behind the taste variation between different bakeries! Flour, sugar, egg yolks, the starter dough and the rum soaked dried fruits are  all mixed together with milk to form a dough. This dough is given two rises(leavenings). The dough is then set in a paper mould called pirottino and given a third proofing. On baking the bread rises very tall almost 12-13 cm.

I decided to attempt this Italian classic but did not have the starter dough. So I used fresh yeast instead. Also, I created the paper cup by lining a 6 inch round cake mould with tall double folded baking paper. There must be an overlap. Also, line the bottom with baking paper. Now you are all set!  Here is the recipe , if you would like to create this classic bread at home

Ingredients 

Fruit mixture
Raisins 30 g
Currants 30 g
Candied Peels 50 g
Almonds 30 g
Lemon zest 1 tsp
Orange zest 1 tsp
Lemon juice 1.5 tbsp
Orange juice 1.5 tbsp
Rum 1/2 tbsp
Vanilla essence 2 tsp

For the bread :
Flour 250 g
Milk 100 ml
Fresh Yeast 15 g
Egg yolks 2
Salt  a pinch
Sugar 50 g
Butter 80 g

Method

  1. Prepare the fruit mixture by mixing all the ingredient and soaking them overnight.
  2. To the sifted flour,  add warm milk mixed with the yeast. Add yolks, salt and sugar and mix lightly to form a soft dough. Deposit the dough on to floured surface and knead it for 10 minutes or until smooth.
  3. Deposit the dough in a lightly floured bowl covered with cling film and allow to ferment till almost doubled in volume. This is the first rise.
  4. Add drained dried fruits and softened butter to the dough and knead the dough till well in-corporated  and smooth. Again cover the dough and let it rise till doubled. This is the second rise.
  5. Prepare a 6 inch cake mould as explained above. Punch the dough to remove air and round the dough into a smooth ball. Deposit the ball into the mould and let it rise for a third time covered, till it doubles in volume.
  6. Cut a cross on the top and brush with butter. Bake in a preheated oven at 190 degrees till it turns light golden in colour for almost 45-50  min.
  7. Reduce the temperature to 160 degrees and bake until nice golden brown or skewer comes out clean. In all it takes about 1.5 – 2 hours to bake depending upon the size.
  8. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter.
  9. Dust with confectioner’s sugar upon cooling.

Enjoy a slice with the accompaniment of your choice ..… and do let me know how it turns out.

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