Thick slices of soft, warm Italian panettone slathered in salty butter are the kind of treats that Christmas is all about. It's a typical Christmas cake throughout Italy and in Italian communities around the world, but it comes from the northern Italian city of Milan. A panettone—which literally translates to "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 is not very sweet.
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 doesn't need to be so involved, as this more straightforward recipe shows.
- For the Fruit
- 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
- For the Dough
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fast action dry yeast
- 5 ounces milk (slightly warm), plus 3 tablespoons for glazing
- 1/4 cup fine sugar
- 18 ounces (or 4 cups) strong bread flour
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 6 large free-range eggs, divided use
- 9 ounces unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing (room temperature)
- 1 ounce whole almonds (blanched)
Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this panettone is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.
Prepare the Fruit
Gather your ingredients.
Put all the dried candied fruits into a bowl and mix thoroughly.
Pour over the Cointreau, mix again, then cover and put to one side in a cool place—but not in the refrigerator—to soak overnight.
Prepare the Dough
In a heatproof jug or bowl, sprinkle the dried yeast over the 5 ounces of 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 into one side of the bowl; on the other side, pour in the frothy yeast mixture. The 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 to medium speed and continue mixing until the dough smooths 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 it.
Let the mixer continue to run for at least 5 more minutes. The dough will turn glossy and even smoother and so soft that it will be impossible to handle. Don't worry though, at this point you don’t need to, and to preserve the air in the dough, it's best that you don’t.
Grease a large baking bowl with the remaining butter.
Hold the stand mixer bowl over the greased one and allow the mixed dough to slowly slide into it. Avoid forcing it out and merely let the dough 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 bowl 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. The next day the dough should rise a bit and be full of lovely bubbles of air.
Make the Panettone
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 it will rise again. Still, don't be too heavy-handed while handling the dough.
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.
Drop the dough into the center of the tin, tuck the almonds into the surface of the cake, and cover loosely with a tea cloth.
Put the cake in a warm place for 2 to 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 350 F.
Mix the 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 300 F 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 and leave it to cool completely.
Serve and enjoy!
- 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—packs in the flavor, 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.
- The recipe above is for the classic combinations of fruits and thereby flavor. You can choose the fruits in any 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.