December 27, 2012

Panettone – A Christmas Yeasted Fruit Bread/ Cake From Italy (Easy Version) : Daring Bakers Challenge , December 2012

was destined to make Panettone this year! Every Christmas season, I look for something new to bake. You know, push my baking limits (well, not always) and explore bakes beyond my existing knowledge and this year one of the things I had decided to bake was a Panettone. And then I discovered that the Daring Bakers challenge for the month was also to bake a Panettone!
The December 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina. Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread!
A Panettone is a traditional Christmas bread originally from Milan, but made and sold all over Italy during the holidays. Once again, there are different accounts about the Panettone’s origin but the most popular version is a romantic 15th century one.

It seems that a young noble man named Ughetto Atellani, a falconer in the Court of the Duke Ludovico Maria Sforza, fell in love with Toni who was the daughter of a poor baker.  Ughetto apparently disguised himself as a pastry chef’s apprentice and got a job in in her father’s bakery.
To impress Toni, he is supposed to have created a tall fruit studded bread to present to her father and called it “Pan de Toni.”  And so it was, and won Ughetto his lady love’s hand in marriage gave Italy its Panettone! There is another version which says the nobleman decided to help out the baker who fell on hard times, and success of the” Pan de Toni” put the bakery back on its feet and the grateful baker agreed to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to the nobleman. 
Either way, the bread was a success and everyone – the baker, his daughter, the nobleman and all the Panettone eaters lived happily ever after! Moral of the story? A good bread can make for a very happy ending!! After all, how can a bread that is more like cake, made with eggs, butter, honey, vanilla and lemon zest, dried and candied fruits not be a success?

Another version is the usual one about the seasoned chef-in-charge who for some reason makes a muck of his dish and then the novice-in-the-kitchen/ dishwasher/ potato peeler jumps into the act and creates a masterpiece! Here, Toni was a scullion in the Sforza family kitchen.
On Christmas Eve, the chef responsible for the dessert prepared for the feast burned it! So Toni jumped in and created a yeasted rich bread studded with dried fruit and raisins which as a resounding success. The grateful and happy Duke Ludovico il Moro decided to honour the creator and named it “Pan de Toni”!!

Yet another story attributes the Panettone to a Sister Ughetta who lived in a poor convent with other nun. Obviously Christmas wasn’t going to be very cheerful until she came up with the recipe for a sweet and fragrant yeasted cake on top of which she cut a cross with a knife.
When baked, the scoring on the cake created a pattern which many traditional style Panettone still carry even today.
Interestingly, “ughett” apparently is the word for raisins in Milanese dialect!

Panettone is no longer kept just for Christmas and is baked throughout the year and is often served at brunch or even as part of dessert with cheese and wine. The original Panettone was a flatter and less rich bake. With time, it got richer and took on the tall shape that is typical of Panettone seen today.
To get this shape with a cupola like top, Panettone is baked in tall straight or fluted paper moulds or tin cans traditionally moulds that are very high sided which come either straight or fluted.
If you can’t find the moulds you can make your own moulds or bake it in a spring form cake tin (high sided or regular), a tube pan or anything else you think you have that might work. Just remember it needs to be oven-proof. I used a spring form cake tin lined along the side with a tall ring of parchment paper.
So was that sheer coincidence or a sign that the Daring Baker challenge this month was to bake a Panettone? Either way, it meant I was going to make that Panettone and also that I was doing a Daring Bakers challenge after a bit of a break, once again. The only thing was that I had already decided on a recipe to make my Panetton, when I saw the challenge recipe.

While probably more authentic a recipe than the one I had chosen, the challenge recipe included two pre-ferments, an overnight rise, 7 eggs, about 350gm of butter and an almost sure thing of the Panettone possibly tearing apart from its bottom! If I point out the not-so-good stuff about the challenge Panettone, I have to play fair and also point out that all the butter and eggs make 2 really good Panettone, and when has festive and celebratory baking ever been about anything but a lot butter and eggs?
Knowing I couldn’t justify (at any level) the use of so much butter and eggs in my bakes while making a point to eat healthier, not even eating smaller portions and sharing with the neighbours, I decided to make the Panettone but with my chosen recipe. I chose this recipe for a couple of reasons.
The first being that it didn’t take me half of the week to make it, and second was that though it took less time than the traditional version it involved making a “sponge/ biga/ poolish” or pre-ferment.
After some reading on the subject, it is clear that what makes the difference in flavour and texture of Panettone is the pre-ferment.
The final reason that swung this recipe for me was the number of absolutely positive reviews about it from people who had made it before.

This Panettone is pretty easy to make and you will be delighted with the bread that comes out of your oven. Feel free to use the original recipe or tweak it to suit your taste like I did. You will rarely find dried peel in my recipes because I don’t like them, though tutti-frutti is ok.
I used whatever dried and candied fruit and nuts I had on hand. I also adapted the almond-sugar glaze from the challenge recipe to use on my Panettone. The glaze makes for a very tasty and crunchy texture on the Panettone which I would definitely recommend making.
I also added sugar bits which made for a nice sweet crunch on a not very sweet bread. If you don’t have sugar bits, you can sprinkle the top with brown sugar or broken/ crushed sugar cubes. 

Panettone – A Christmas Yeasted Fruit Bread From Italy
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour)


For The Pre-ferment (Sponge/ Biga/ Poolish): 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cool water
1/16 tsp instant yeast 

For the dough: 

2 eggs, lightly beaten
100gm butter, soft at room temperature
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
4 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt 
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange blossom water (or orange extract)
Zest of 1 medium sized orange
1 1/2 cups dried fruit and nuts (black currants/ raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots, chopped candied ginger, tutti frutti, chopped almonds) 

For the glaze:
1/3 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp milk (and a bit more if needed)
1 tbsp oil 

Sugar bits for decoration (optional)


Make the biga by mixing the flour, water and yeast in a medium to large bowl, with a wooden spoon.  You will have a dough which is a bit stiff and that’s alright as it will bubble up by next morning. Cover the bowl loosely and allow it to rise overnight, about 12 hours when it will be bubbly.
The dough for Panettone is quite sticky so working it by hand can be difficult and a dough kneader or food processor will make things easier. I used my food processor.
Put the sponge/ biga/ polish and all the other ingredients for the dough, except the dried fruit and nuts and knead, on slow speed, till it comes together as a dough. This will be very sticky initially but eventually form some sort of a smooth-ish dough that’s still a bit sticky.
Oil your palms and shape the dough into a ball. Place it in a well-oiled bowl, turn it round to coat it well, cover and let it rest for about an hour and a half. The dough will not rise as much as you might expect it to.
Flatten out dough by hand as much as you can and spread the dried fruit and nuts across the surface. Roll up the dough in any way you want and then knead it gently just until the fruit seems well dispersed in the dough.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and allow it to rest for an hour. It won't rise much; that's OK.  Over handling will cause the fruit to release too much sugar into the dough, slowing its rise. Rest the dough for 15 minutes.
During this time, prepare your baking tin if not using Panettone moulds. Line the tin on the base and sides with parchment paper. If using a spring form cake tin, line the sides with parchment cut to about twice the height of the side of your cake tin to allow the bread to rise while it bakes.
I used an 8” spring form cake tin.  Remember that the narrower/ lesser the diameter of your baking tin, the taller your Panettone will be and the longer it will need to bake to ensure the middle is cooked properly.
Also prepare the almond glaze. Run the almonds (blanched or unblanched) with the icing sugar in a small jar of your blender or a spice grinder till the almonds are coarsely powdered. Mix this with the other ingredients for the glaze until you have a quite thick mixture which can be brushed onto the Panettone.
Place the dough in your prepared tin, cover the top and allow the dough to rise for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The dough will rise less than it will for other breads, but it should still rise a bit. It will rise higher while baking. Brush almond glaze gently but well, all over the surface of the risen dough.  Sprinkle the sugar bits over this.
Bake the Panettone at 180C (350F) for about 30 to 45 minutes till the Panettone is done. A cake tester/ skewer poked into the centre should come out dry, without any crumbs or wet dough clinging to it. If the Panettone is browning too quickly during baking, cover it with aluminium foil.
Remove from the oven and cool it in the pan for about 5 to 10 minutes, then unmould and cool the Panettone on a rack.
This Panettone should serve about 10 to 12 people.

Don’t forget to see what the rest of the Daring Bakers have baked.
This Panettone is being YeastSpotted!