The cherished Italian holiday bread. Jeweled with candied fruits (particularly citrus) and raisins, it first came into being in Milan about 1490 and was quickly adopted throughout Italy, from the Alps to Sicily. Legends abound concerning the origin of panettone.
The most popular is one that tells of a young aristocrat smitten with the daughter of a pastry chef named Toni. To impress the father of his beloved, the young man pretended to be an apprentice pastry cook and invented a wonderful sweet dome-shaped bread of exceptional delicacy. This new fruit bread was an enormous success; people streamed into the bakery to buy the exceptional “pan de Toni.”
1 1/2 cakes of fresh baker’s yeast
65 ml (1/4 c.) sugar
6 tbsp. warm milk
6 egg yolks
Zest of one lemon, finely grated
A pinch of salt
500 – 750 ml (2-3 c.) flour
100 ml (6 tbsp.) candied lemon, cut in dice
100 g (6 tbsp.) + 2 tbsp. butter
4 tbsp. sultana raisins
4 tbsp. currants
1 tsp. vanilla
1. Sprinkle 1 tbsp. granulated sugar and the yeast over the warm milk and let sit 3 minutes; mix and let rest in a warm draft-free place (e.g., a warm oven that has been turned off) until the mixture has doubled in volume, approximately 5 minutes;
2. pour the mixture into a bowl, add in the egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest, salt and remaining sugar;
3. gradually mix in 500 ml (2 c.) of the flour by hand until a smooth consistency is attained – the dough should easily come together into a ball;
4. gradually add the butter cut into small dice and beat until the dough becomes smoother and more elastic;
5. add 125 to 250 ml (1/2 to 1 c.) more flour until the dough is firm and silky but not sticky;
6. place the ball onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes. When the dough is smooth and shiny, place into a buttered bowl; dust lightly with flour, cover with a kitchen towel and place in a warm draft-free place for about 45 minutes until doubled in volume;
7. punch down the dough firmly with your fist and flatten it out in the bowl; add the candied lemon peel, raisins and currants and knead until well distributed but without working the dough more than necessary;
8. line a large bread pan with brown paper that has been well buttered on both sides; place the dough in the pan and trace a cross on top;
9. cover with buttered paper and let rise again in a warm place for 15 minutes;
10. remove the paper from the top; brush the top with softened butter.
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400° F);
2. place the bread pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes;
3. reduce the oven temperature to 160° C (350° F) and continue baking for another 30 to 40 minutes, brushing again with melted butter; the bread is done when the surface is golden and crispy;
4. remove from the oven; remove the paper and let cool for 15 minutes before unmoulding.
A Christmas gift
In Milan, businessmen adopted the habit of giving panettone as a Christmas gift to their clients. However, for a long time panettone was seen as a luxury accessible only to a select few, until the development of new production techniques made it available to everyone. A process combining natural yeast and a paper mould allows the yeast to leaven the dough to produce a cake that is light as a feather.
Ingredients: flour, yeast, milk, butter, eggs and sugar, dating back to original recipes.
Today panettone is well-known around the world and a wide range of varieties is available: cream-filled, covered with chocolate or almond icing; they are often sold in a distinctive box with a handle. Panettone can be enjoyed in a thousand and one ways: sliced thinly or thickly, covered with various sauces, filled or topped with cream preparations. It is particularly delicious toasted for breakfast, dipped into hot or cold milk until it softens. Panettone is not only a Christmas tradition but a delicious complement to a fine meal.