Thick slices of soft, warm Italian Panettone slathered in salty butter are the kind of treats that Christmas is all about. The classic Italian Panettone is a real beauty and making one is not as difficult as some would have you believe. There are long, drawn-out recipes involving much rising, kneading and rising again and again. The result, of course, is lovely but it does not need to be so involved as this more straightforward recipe shows.
A panettone (literally "big loaf") is a large, dome-shaped cake that has been leavened with yeast. It has a slightly light and airy texture, but a rich and buttery taste, and it is not very sweet. It is a typical Christmas cake throughout Italy and in Italian communities around the world, but it comes from the northern Italian city of Milan.
- 10 ounces mixed dried fruits (currants, raisins, cranberries, dried cherries)
- 4 ounces candied lemon and orange peel (finely chopped)
- 2 ounces glace or candied cherries (quartered)
- 6 tablespoons Cointreau or your favorite liqueur or fruit juice
- 1 ½ tablespoons fast action dry yeast
- 5 fl.oz. milk (slightly warm) plus 3 tablespoons for glazing
- ¼ cup fine sugar
- 5 cups strong bread flour
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 6 free-range eggs
- 9 ounces unsalted butter plus 1 tablespoon for greasing
- 1 ounce whole almonds (blanched)
Gather your ingredients ensuring the butter is at room temperature.
Put all the dried, candied fruits into a bowl. Mix thoroughly then pour over the Cointreau or your favorite liqueur, mix again, then cover and put to one side in a cool place but not in the refrigerator, to soak overnight.
In a heatproof jug or bowl, sprinkle the dried yeast over the warmed milk, stir in the sugar and leave to one side for 5 minutes.
Tip the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Sprinkle the salt on to one side of the bowl, on the side pour in the frothy yeast mixture; salt should never come into direct contact with yeast, dried or fresh as the salt will kill the yeast and your bread will be hard and heavy).
Start by mixing on a slow speed to combine the ingredients. Add 5 of the eggs, turn the mixer onto medium speed and continue mixing until the dough smoothens out, it will also become quite sticky.
Cut the softened butter into bite-sized chunks, raise the speed of the mixer and add the butter a few pieces at a time until you have used up all the butter. Let the mixer continue to run for at least 5 more minutes. The dough will turn glossy and even smoother and so soft it will be impossible to handle, do not worry though, at this point you don’t need to, and to preserve the air in the dough, it is best you don’t.
Grease a large baking bowl with a little of the extra butter. Hold the stand mixer bowl over the greased one and allow the mixed dough to slowly slide into it, avoid forcing, merely let it move by its weight, this way you will retain maximum air in the dough.
Scrape down any leftover dough with a soft spatula. Cover the basin with a lid or tightly with plastic wrap and put into a very cool place, preferably the fridge if you have room and leave overnight. See kitchen notes below.
The next day the dough should be bursting from the bowl and full of lovely bubbles of air.
Heavily flour a work surface, carefully tip the dough out of the bowl and spread it out with your fingertips. All the air will whoosh out but no worries it will rise again, and even so, do not be tempted to be too heavy-handed.
Strain the soaked fruits through a fine sieve, discarding the juice, and place half of the fruits onto the spread out dough.
Fold the dough over the fruits and lightly roll the dough around to distribute the fruit evenly through the dough. Spread the dough again, and repeat as before with the remaining fruit. The dough will be lumpy and knobbly, but look it over to make sure the fruits are not clustered in any one area, if they are, give them another roll around. Form the dough into a roughly shaped ball.
Grease a 7-inch Panettone tin or Panettone paper case with more butter. If you have neither of these, use a regular cake tin but line the base and sides with greaseproof paper standing at least 2 inches above the rim.
Drop the dough into the center of the tin, tuck the almonds into the surface of the cake, cover loosely with a tea cloth. Put the cake in a warm place for 2 – 3 hours until the dough once more is well risen and rising above the tin; it takes longer then allow it to, the key here is to have the rise above the rim of the tin or case.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Mix the one remaining egg with the 3 tablespoons of milk and brush over the surface of the cake. Cook in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 300F and cook for a further 40 minutes. The Panettone is ready when a skewer comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for 5 minutes in the tin on a cooling rack, then remove the tin and leave to cool completely.
The cake is delicious eaten fresh (with lots of butter) and keeps well in an airtight tin for a week. It also freezes well for up to two months; defrost slowly in the refrigerator overnight.
This easy recipe makes the most of the stand mixer for the kneading, if you do not have one, then knead by hand.
The long, slow rise overnight will give you the lightest of cakes. Do not be tempted to rush this process by putting the cake into a too-warm place; if you do, the cake will rise but collapse in the oven. Slower is always better and results is a light airy cake, with a soft crumb.
Soaking the fruit in Cointreau - or any liqueur you prefer – as in this recipe packs in the flavour, but even without it, the Panettone will be delicious. If alcohol is not your thing, or the cake is for children, then substitute the Cointreau with orange juice, apple juice also works very well.
Variations on the Classic Recipe :
The recipe above is for the classic combinations of fruits and thereby flavor. You can choose the fruits you in the proportion you prefer.
Switch out the almonds on the top of the cake for walnuts or cashews. Or, leave out the nuts altogether and sprinkle with pearl sugar.