Last year, I made panettone for the first time and thought it was pretty good for a first try. Then my friend Y came with a panettone from Marks and Spencer and it tasted better than mine because the orange peel flavor was stronger. It was still incomparable to the Milanese panettone I bought in Melbourne years ago. I think if you eat something for the first time, eat the best version so that you'll forever measure your future taste of the same thing against the best.
Panettone is a sweet bread that originated from Milan, Italy and it is eaten especially during Christmas. It is a rich bread with candied peel and rum-soaked raisins and has a distinctive look: it's always taller than it is wide. That is a problem for me because I can't get panettone parchment cases here. The other problem is that panettone, like chiffon cakes, is very soft and have to be hung so that it won't sit on its own weight. I didn't know that and the panettone I made for Christmas/New Year deflated as it cooled and sank in the middle. I also didn't know that panettone cooks as it cools. I had served my panettone straight out of the oven and it was a little bit sticky. I told my guests to eat the bread dipped into the vin santo that I had carried from Rome. The bread was so soft that upon dipping in the vin santo, it just soaked all the liquor and turned soggy. Laura has just confirmed that panettone is usually eaten with (not soaked) spumante, a champagne-like Italian wine. I have another question for Laura: do you tear the panettone or cut it? We tore it like monkey bread and it was fun to eat that way.
I once made 6 sponge cakes in one afternoon when I couldn't get the texture right, and threw each failed cake to the dog which turned its head the other way every time a cake landed near him. In that spirit of not giving up, I googled for another panettone recipe two days ago because the panettone I made for Christmas/New Year didn't have the right texture and taste. I wanted a panettone that was shreddy, not crumbly in texture. The latest recipe I found, named 'The Best Panettone Ever', made the best panettone I've ever eaten, better even than the first one I ate.
Unless you love panettone (and I do), don't attempt making it. A lot of time is needed to proof the dough. The dough has to be proofed first for 12 to 15 hours (less in hot weather) and then proofed again for 3 to 5 hours. However, the proofing time is dependent on the room temperature, as I found out last night. I made the dough at 4 pm yesterday, went to a dinner party, came home at midnight and did some reading. Suddenly, just as I was getting into bed, I remembered my dough and rushed to the oven. It was a Magic Porridge Pot scene:
This was 9 hours into proofing.
The other thing about making panettone is the hanging of the cooked bread. I used skewers as per the instructions but the bread pulled through the skewers and was mutilated. If you are not fussy about authentic-looking panettone, use a tube pan. I've read somewhere that large soup cans are good too but that still doesn't solve the hanging part.
I'v made several adjustments to the recipes, not in the amount but in the steps. Lahey's famous for his no-knead bread recipe and this too is a no knead recipe but I left the dough to proof in the mixer bowl and kneaded it after the first proofing because I wanted a shreddy bread. Btw, this recipe is great because everything is mixed at the beginning--you don't have to make a starter dough.
Right after we ate lunch, we pounced on the panettone. It was SO GOOD with coffee. The rain started soon after and I thought life just can't get any better. Really. I know Christmas is over but life is great and we should celebrate each day so make panettone even if it's not Christmas!
The dough was so wet and hard to handle that I used a heavy duty rubber spatula to scoop it and a pair of scissors to cut it.
The next day, after 8 hours of second proofing overnight in the fridge. I made twice the recipe and put one portion into a tube pan and another into a small cake tin.
Place a small spoonful of cold butter on the top before baking. The black specks are vanilla seeds.
Hanging the poor bread.
The skewers tore through the bread because I used baking paper, not panettone parchment case.
The Best Panettone Ever (Adapted from Jim Lahey's recipe, published in Gourmet, Dec 2008)
1 cup raisins
2/3 cup candied orange peel
1/2 cup dried cranberries (my addition)
2 T light rum + 2 T hot water
1 T brandy (optional)
3 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t instant dry yeast (I used 1 t)
1/4 t grated lemon zest (I used zest from 1 large orange)
seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (or use vanilla extract)
3 large eggs, room temp
1 T honey (I used maple syrup)
2/3 cup tepid water
10 T or about 170 gm (original recipe was 10 1/2 T) unsalted softened butter/1 T melted/1/2 T chilled
equipment: panettone cases or large parchment case to fit a 7 or 8" round pan, at least 4" tall (no need to grease) or larger tube pan (no need to grease or line)
1. Soak the raisins in the rum and hot water overnight. Soak the cranberries in brandy overnight.
2. Next day (schedule your time), mix the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, lemon or orange zest and vanilla seeds in the bowl of a stand mixer.
3. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, honey/maple syrup and the tepid water.
4. With the mixer at low speed, slowly pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Increase speed to medium and mix until well-combined.
5. Add the 10 spoons of softened butter, 1 T at a time, until well-incorporated between additions.
6. Mix the raisins (I didn't have to drain the raisins as instructed because the raisins soaked up all the liquid; wasteful to drain the rum off anyway), the cranberries, the candied peel and the 1 T melted butter and stir that into the dough mixture with a long wooden spoon or heavy-duty spatula until well-mixed.
7. Cover the dough in the same bowl with cling wrap (or transfer to a greased bowl) and leave in a cold oven about 6 hours (in warm weather) or longer (in cold weather; recipe said 12 to 15 hours).
8. Knead the dough in the mixer for about 10 minutes until the dough at 'window pane stage' or as per the original recipe, turn the dough out onto a floured board, pull and fold the dough from outer edges into the middle.
9. Put the dough into a 20 cm/8" tube pan or panettone parchment mould, cover with a wet towel and let it proof 3 to 5 hours until doubled and very soft and puffed. Sprinkle some water on top pf the panettone if it looks dry. About 15 minutes before panettone is to be baked, heat the oven at 180 C.
10. Snip an X on the top of the panettone with scissors (careful not to deflate the dough) and place the knob of cold butter in it. If using tubepan, place small knobs of butter around the top of the bread.
11. Bake on the bottom rack 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean.
12. For panettone baked in tube pan, just turn over like you would a chiffon cake. For round pan, quickly pierce two long skewers parallel through the parchment paper and bread about 4-5 cm/2" from the base and hang the bread upside down in a pot to cool, about 1 hour.