It's that time of the year again, the Festive Season, when everyone goes out of the way to meet with friends and families near and far, and of course when people meet, what do they do best other than talk, eat, eat and eat. In Italy, they eat lots of lovely food and at this time of the year, when they celebrate Christmas, they really go for the gusto and eat very rich food like Panettone – bread made with eggs, sugar, milk and butter – now that's rich. So rich that in fact way back when, it was only the rich people from Milan that ate Panettone – a bread that is made it typical cake ingredients, hence the title of this post.
There's a lot of myth surrounding the creation of this lovely rich bread and my favourite Italian chef of the moment, Giorgio Locatelli, uses about 2 pages in his book to talk about this bread. One story runs that a man loved a baker's daughter so much that he talked his way into working in the daughter's father's bakery and then created this bread putting all this rich stuff in it like milk, currants, butter and of course eggs and then gave it to the daughter and guess what her name was, Toni and bread in the Italian language is Pane and hence Pane-Toni, or Toni's bread. In any case, what is agreed upon is that Panettone originates from Milan, the home of the rich.
OK ! so how do you make this lovely rich bread then ? I should first say that making bread isn't as scary as you think, as most of the time is waiting, as the bread needs to "prove" or grow and expand as the yeast activates, but the actual hands on bit is only about a few minutes. I find that for sticky bread, i.e. bread with butter, milk and eggs, the best tool to use, is one of my favourite tools, the Magimix Food Processor and I'm not getting paid to say that – I'm just trying to make your baking experience pleasurable.
Stage One: First, mix about the equivalent of 4 teaspoons (or 30g) of fresh yeast and blend it with 225ml warm milk and stir it with a little bit of sugar (1 teaspoon).
Then sift about 400g of plain/all purpose flour into a big bowl and pour this into the food processor with the dough hook. Press the food processor on and gradually pour the milk/yeast mixture through the funnel until the mixture begins to gather to form a dough ball, keep doing this for about 4 minutes (this is like kneading). After that take the dough ball, knead slightly until the dough is more shiny than sticky and put it into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave to expand for about 45 minutes to an hour.
Stage 2: Take the expanded dough ball and knock out some air out of it and place back into the food processor with about 100g of softened butter and 1 egg and 2 egg yolks, together with 100g of caster sugar and 100g chopped raisins and candied peel. Knead in the processor until it forms a sticky dough ball, lift out and put into a bowl covered with a warm cloth for about 1 hour. After this, shape the dough how you want and place into a 20" spring form round tin if you want a round shaped Panettone or experiment like I did by putting some also into mini baking moulds like below.
I made two versions – I put some inside 4 mini bake tins lined with baking paper and made a bigger version into the lined 20 cm tin, placed them in the fridge over night, as I wanted warm Panettone for breakfast – sometimes I like spoiling myself and the family. If you choose this method, take the breads out an hour before you bake them. Before you place them in the oven, brush them with egg yolk and almond essence and put them in the oven on 200C for 10 minutes and then turn it down to 180 C for the last 10 minutes. Panettone is a bit like cake, so your cake tester should come out clean and not gooey. Let the breads cool in the tin before un-moulding. If you want a bit of an expert look to your Panettone, try and let them cool down upside down – don't ask me how to do this because it was difficult, so I just let them cool down on their sides. The plus of this technique is that as the bread cools down, the bread will stretch, giving it that stretched look that is typical of Panettone. This is how the experts make the bread look like it does, but of course they have special equipment. Store this for a week if you can wait that long, ours didn't.
If you are like me and love the contrast of sweet with savoury, then you can eat Panettone with cheese too, hard or soft – this is a pic of my lunch at work before I munched it with some soft Italian Cremosa cheese.
In summary, what do you need ?
4 teaspoons of fresh yeast
225 ml of warm milk
400g of plain or all purpose flour
100g of soft butter
100g of caster sugar
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks (reserve one for the wash)
A dash of almond or vanilla extract
100g of candied peel and chopped raisins
Food processor or cold and dry hands for kneading
Tip: If you want your Panettone a bit richer, add another egg yolk and a bit more butter and some vanilla into the dough.
Inspired by a recipe from Ursula Ferrigno's book La Dolce Vita