Panettone

Panettone is a traditional fruity sweet bread originally from Milan, which is popular at Christmas and New Year in Italy and worldwide.

Preparation time: 2 hoursRising time: 3 days
Cooking time: 50 minutesServes: 15
Difficulty: Difficult

Ingredients

For the starter:

  • 70ml/⅕ pt/¼ cup of warm milk
  • 7g/¼ oz/2 teaspoons of dried yeast
  • 100g/3½ oz/just under a cup of strong white flour

For the dough:

  • 400g/14 oz/just over 3 cups of plain flour, plus extra
  • 180g/6 oz/just under a cup of sugar
  • 6 large eggs yolks
  • 180g/6 oz/just over ¾ cup of butter at room temperature, plus extra

For the aromatic mix:

  • A teaspoon of honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • Peel and juice of one unwaxed lemon
  • Peel and juice of one unwaxed orange
  • A teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 400g/14 oz/just under 2 cups of dried fruits and nuts

For dusting:

  • Icing sugar

Special Equipment

  • A large mixing bowl
  • A sieve
  • A tea towel
  • A Panettone or tall cake tin
  • A heatproof bowl
  • A pastry brush

Make it vegan: use soya milk instead of dairy milk, and plant based margarine or non dairy butter instead of butter. Use golden syrup or Honea instead of honey, and replace the egg yolks with 6 tablespoons of aquafaba.

Method

  1. Pour the warm milk into a large mixing bowl, then sprinkle in the yeast. Sift the 100g of flour into the bowl and stir everything together. Knead it briefly with your fingers, then cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Leave the bowl in a warm place for an hour so the dough can rise, then transfer it to a fridge for eight hours, or overnight.
  2. When ready, remove the bowl from the fridge for an hour so the dough can warm up slightly. Then add half of the remaining flour and knead it into the sticky dough for five minutes. Next, add half of the sugar, egg yolks and butter, and knead everything together for a further ten minutes, or until the dough comes together and is springy. If it seems a little too wet, add some extra flour.
  3. Return the dough to the large mixing bowl, cover with the tea towel, and leave it to rise again for another six hours.
  4. In a separate bowl, prepare the aromatic mix by combining the honey, salt, vanilla, and orange and lemon juice and zest together. In another bowl, soak the dried fruits in a little water or fruit liquor.
  5. When ready, repeat step three with the remaining dough ingredients: knead the remaining flour into the dough, before adding the remaining egg yolks, sugar and butter. Knead for approximately fifteen minutes. Then drain the dried fruits and add them, along with the aromatic mix and any nuts you might be using, to the dough. Knead everything together for a further ten minutes. Again, if the dough is a little wet, add some more flour.
  6. Grease a baking sheet and use it to line a Panettone tin or tall cake mould. Add the dough ball to the tin, cover with the tea towel, and leave it in a warm place for two hours before transferring to the fridge for eight hours, or overnight.
  7. Preheat the oven for 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and pop a large heatproof bowl of water in the bottom of the oven.
  8. Remove the tea towel from the dough and leave it to rest for a further half an hour, so the surface can dry out a little.
  9. Use a sharp knife to cut a deep cross on the top of the dough, before using a pastry brush to thickly dab it with butter.
  10. Bake the Panettone for 50 minutes, turning it occasionally so that it doesn’t become too brown on one side. If it’s in danger of burning, turn the temperature down and cover the Panettone with some aluminium foil.
  11. Remove the Panettone from the oven and leave it to cool for about half an hour before upturning it. Dust it with icing sugar, cut it into slices, and serve.
  12. Buon Appetito!

Tips

  • You can use any combination of dried fruits and nuts in the Panettone– choose from raisins, sultanas, currants, dried apricots, candied peel, candied fruit, glace cherries, walnuts, pistachios, or almonds. If desired these can left to soak in fruit liquor for a few hours before cooking. I used a mixture of raisins, dried apricots and whole almonds!

Background

Pronunciation: /ˌpænəˈtoʊni/ (pan-net-tone-ee)

Home: Milan, Italy

Relatives: Stollen (Germany), BoloRei (Portugal), Tsoureki (Greece), Kerststol (Netherlands)

History

There are three main legends regarding the invention of Panettone, and they all date back to the late fifteenth century, when the Duchy of Milan was ruled by the House of Sforza. The Duchy, which encompassed the city of Milan and much of Lombardy, was a state of the Holy Roman Empire with a shaky past. Like many northern Italian cities, Milan was engulfed by the rivalry between Guelphs (supporters of the Pope) and Ghibbelines (supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor) in their ongoing power struggle. Furthermore, the region had undergone significant turmoil in the mid fifteenth century, after the last of the Visconti dukes, Filippo Maria, died without male heirs: the Milannese briefly tried to form a republic, but it was unstable and was soon conquered by Francesco I Sforza, who married Visconti’s daughter Bianca and became Duke. 

Ludovico Sforza was the third of Francesco and Bianca’s sons to become Duke of Milan: he ruled the region from 1494 to 1499. Ludovico was known as Ludovico il Moro and is perhaps best known today for commissioning Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. At the time, however, he was known for losing control of Milan to the Kingdom of France: in fact, Machiavelli’s presentation of this loss made Ludovico infamous for centuries. 

Ludovico Sforza, by Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis

Panettone was allegedly created in Ludovico’s palace kitchens. According to the story Ludovico, his wife, and his court were gathered one year for a Christmas feast and his kitchen staff were overworked and busy. So overworked, in fact, that the dessert centerpiece was accidentally burnt! Everybody panicked, but the young kitchen scullion, ‘Toni’, has some dough of his own lying around, which he was planning on cooking for himself for Christmas. ‘Toni’, either voluntarily or at the behest of the head chef, gave up his Christmas treat for the greater good: he kneaded eggs, butter and fried and candied fruit into the dough and baked it for the aristocrats upstairs. The smell produced by the bread as it was being baked delighted the kitchen staff, and when it was served to the duke and his guests they found it to be delicious. ‘Pan de Toni’ becomes an instant hit with the people of Milan. 

However, since ‘Panettone’ also means ‘large loaf cake’, the ‘Toni’ aspect of the Sforza story seems slightly suspect. According to a different story Panettone was invented by a young nobleman, ‘Ughetto’ Atellani, who lived under Ludovico. Ughetto was in love with the daughter of a failing baker, and his family naturally disapproved of the match. To win them over, ‘Ughetto’ joined the bakery and set out to make his future step father rich. To do this he began kneading butter, sugar, eggs and fruit into the bakery’s dough, making it sweet, tasty, and popular enough with the local townsfolk that his father in law became rich, and ‘Ughetto’ was able to marry his true love. A third story for Panettone‘s origins is that a ‘Sister Ughetta’ lived in a poor Milanese convent, and one day decided to make her sisters happy by kneading some butter, eggs, sugar and fruit into the Christmas dough and making their bread extra tasty.

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