December 14, 2010


Panettone is a well-known Christmas treat from Milan, although it is available and eaten year-round. The commercial panettone I've had comes in a large tin, and although tasty, is a bit dry. The homemade version from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day is anything but dry, and very tasty indeed. It's also a lot of work.


If you've been following my recent posts, you're wondering what happened to the stollen I was going to make at the same time as the panettone. Well, I thought there were sliced almonds in the pantry, but I was wrong. I very nearly convinced myself to drive to the store (it takes 20 minutes or so), but decided it was too snowy and icy. So no stollen. Just as well, it would have been too much to try to do panettone and stollen in one session.

There are some things you'll need to make panettone. Theoretically, you could mix this by hand, but I surely wouldn't want to try, so a good stand mixer is required. If you don't have sourdough starter, put this off until next Christmas, because you may not have enough time to make the starter before this Christmas. Finally, you'll need panettone molds.

Foolishly, I thought I'd just make my own molds. I took 6-inch cardboard cake rounds and added parchment paper sides by folding and pasting parchment to the bottom of the round. Then I pasted the overlapping side. I let them dry overnight, only to discover that I still don't get how to make flour paste, and I'm still no good at arts and crafts. I should have listened to my kindergarten teacher. Still, they worked. Sort of.

Next, I got the fruits ready. I made a simple syrup (½ cup sugar + ½ cup water), added a vanilla bean and a tablespoon of Grand Marnier. I poured the hot syrup over a mixture of ½ cup sultanas (golden raisins), ½ cup dried Montmorency cherries, and ½ cup candied lemon zest. I covered it and let it sit at room temperature until I needed it.

Finally, I mixed together 1½ ounces sourdough starter, 6 ounces unbleached flour, and 3 ounces room temperature water. About 2 minutes of mixing was followed by a bit of hand kneading. The starter went into a clean, lightly oiled bowl and then sat, covered, for about 8 hours. A night's refrigeration followed.

Day 2. Reinhart takes three pages to explain how to make this bread. If you want to try making it, I strongly suggest you read his words several times, then follow his instructions carefully. Anyway, I cut the starter into about a dozen pieces and put it in the work bowl of my trusty stand mixer with a mixture of 1 tablespoon honey, ¼ cup lukewarm water, and 1 teaspoon active dry yeast that had been stirred together and sat for a minute. I ran the mixer on low for a moment to blend everything.

Next, I whisked together 1 whole egg with 3 egg yolks and a tablespoon of vanilla paste. That got added to the starter mixture and mixed until incorporated. Then I added 7½ ounces of unbleached flour and 4 grams of Fleur de Sel. Yes, I switched from ounces to grams, because 4 grams of salt is 4 grams of salt, but different salts have different volumes, so a teaspoon of one isn't the same as a teaspoon of another. And because my scale lets me weigh 4 grams, but doesn't let me weigh 0.21 ounces.

Okay, that was mixed for 2 minutes on low. Next, I added sugar, a total of 3 tablespoons, but only about ½ tablespoon at a time. Over the course of about 5 minutes of mixing, adding sugar, and scraping down the bowl, the dough began to smooth out. Once the sugar was fully incorporated, I mixed another 5 minutes at medium-low speed.

While waiting for the dough to mix, I set up a strainer and began draining the fruit, reserving the syrup to use as a cordial. Or something harder. I haven't decided yet.

At this point it was time to change to the dough hook, so the bowl and paddle were scraped down. Next, butter got added, a total of 6 ounces, in increments of 1 tablespoon. The dough hook rather beats and flattens the butter and it gets picked up and incorporated into the batter. It reminded me of pounding butter for puff pastry. Anyway, after about 5 minutes of adding and scraping down the bowl, all the butter was incorporated. Then five more minutes of kneading with the dough hook, and the dough was rather glossy with a lot of stretchy strength. Reinhart refers to taffy, which I would have but that would have smacked of plagiarism.

Finally, I added the fruits I'd drained earlier, folding them in by hand. I turned the dough out onto a lightly-flour surface, then dusted it with flour before doing a stretch and fold. The dough was cut in half, and each half went into one of those handmade molds I shouldn't have attempted. I went to bed while the bread rose for the next 13 hours.

Day 3. Baking day. Oven at 350°. One mold held together, mostly, but the other didn't do so well, so one loaf had an interesting shape. The paperclips I had to use to hold the parchment together were well clear of the bread, so into the oven for 35 minutes until done. Then I only had to wait another 3 hours while they cooled.

It occurred to me after beginning the rise that I could have just toasted some pecans or walnuts, chopped them up, and used them to make a stollen out of the dough. I wouldn't have had to wait all night only to discover my handmade molds were just not up to the task.

So now that I've made panettone, sort of, I know what it's supposed to taste like. I'll probably do it again, but when I do I'll buy some nice paper molds that will actually keep their shape.

Next, I have a pumpkin that I need to use. I have Parmigiano-Reggiano. Time to make sauce.


  1. Since I am still so new to bread baking, I think I'll let this one stay in the hands of experienced bakers. I know my limitations. lol...thanks for the giveaway.

  2. I love panettone! I've already bought my paper molds and am going to bake this weekend. I love that you add dried cherries. I usually just add candied orange peel and golden raisins, but cherries sound delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Well done on the Panettone! My Oma buys our family one every Christmas so I never thought to make one myself! I will however be making stollen this season :)

  4. According to Peter Reinhart, and he's the god of bread so he knows, stollen is the same recipe as panettone, but with an almond paste center and no final rise. Let us know how yours turns out.

  5. My granny was a god of bread too. Her panettone was just scrumptios. Too bad I never really was interested in learning how to make it :( Your post dug up some pretty nice memories, thank you ^_^

  6. I've been looking for some food gifts to give for the holidays and this would be great!!

  7. I found your website by coincidence, but I really enjoyed to see how you dealt with such a difficult Italian Christmas cake... (in Italy, although you can buy it from very famous artisan pastry chefs, it's difficult to get it during all the year long... I imagine that it is mainly due to the fact, we consider it one of the main symbols of our Christmas time... Then we have during Easter time, something very similar as the Colomba (the name comes from this bird's shape). The only suggestion I can leave you, for your next Panettone, is to buy dried orange and lime candied fruits, that's the secret surprise of the original recipe together with dried raisins :)
    I will come back to check other recipes, thanks for sharing and sorry for my poor English!

  8. Thanks for the suggestion! Your English is quite good, far better than my Italian.

  9. I'm ashamed to say I've never even tried panettone. I've always seen it in stores and thought it was a very pretty bread but never really had the guts to buy one. Being originally from a small town in the Midwest, this wasn't one of our holiday traditions so its never been on my list to buy. However, your description really makes me want to try one, to at least appreciate all the hard work that goes into making it. Thanks for sharing and for all the wonderful tips and recipes lately! Much appreciated...

    (by the way, I'm still enjoying my garlic confit I made a month or so ago from your recipe...absolutely divine!!!)

  10. I also find the store bought panettone to be dry. I usually make French toast with it! I don't have any sourdough starter right now So I will have to wait but this looks fabulous!

  11. I have never had panettone, let alone made my own!

  12. Congratulations Anna H. and Lori, you both get calendars!