What is the go to hostess gift around our house? Panettone. We almost always have a few on standby should we get invited to an open house, or have someone drop in unexpectedly bearing gifts. Each year I secretly hope that there will be extra that don’t get given away as it is a great treat to crack into one with coffee for breakfast. I’ve often wondered what gives panettone that distinctive flavour. This may partially explain why I was so excited to receive my December 2012 issue of La Cucina Italiana that had a recipe for panettone. I won’t re-type the whole recipe as it is rather lengthy but here’s the link (Panettone recipe).
This is not something to attempt if you are not patient, require instant gratification from your baking, can’t follow instructions, or you don’t have much time. You need to start the process more than a week in advance of the actual baking day to allow for the starter to “ripen”. The starter is flour and water that sits at room temperature until it starts to ferment. I’m not sure of the biochemistry but it did result in some odd smells. The instructions were to feed the starter after three days, after two days then every day up until baking day. I actually created a little calendar to help me with the steps (Monday make starter, Thursday feed starter etc…). The next component was the poolish. Poolish is actually the French term for a pre-ferment; a mixture of flour, water and yeast that creates a sponge. The Italian term is biga which is what I think I actually made because it is a wetter sponge that can be kept longer. Whatever we call it, I made the pre-ferment the night before, let it sit on the counter for 11 hours then put it in the fridge until I was ready to start making the dough.
Tuesday was the big day. Time to make the dough! The recipe has a lot of components so I actually did a complete mis-en-place and made sure all my ingredients were at room temperature (except the butter that was cut in pieces and flattened into thin sheets between layers of plastic wrap and refrigerated). There is only one ingredient that I would consider “exotic” and that is the lemon flavoured olive oil. Fortunately my Christmas gift last year was adopting an olive tree for the year and my shipment of flavoured olive oils arrived from Nudo a couple weeks ago and included a fantastic lemon one. I took that as a sign I was destined to attempt the panettone. As far as specialty equipment, I had everything except for the paper panettone molds that I ordered online.
The fruit mixture took the most time to assemble due to the time required to grate the peel from 3 lemons and 3 oranges. It was relatively simple to assemble the dough once all the ingredients were laid out.
The hard work was done by my trusty KitchenAid. I put the dry ingredients into the bowl of the mixer. Then I introduced the wet ingredients (including the smelly starter, poolish, lots of eggs and some milk) into the dry then left the dough to rest in the bowl for 20 minutes. Next the butter is introduced a little at a time with the mixer running. Lastly, the fruit is folded in by hand.
I decided to follow the instructions for allowing for the most flavour to develop since part of the mystery for me is what makes a panettone taste like it does. The dough sat on the counter for 30 minutes and then I put it in the fridge for 18 hours.
The dough smelled very “panettone-ish” which was very encouraging but it took quite a bit longer than the recipe suggested for the loaves to proof – I’m not sure if that’s because the fridge was very cold or if it is normal. The recipe said 1-2 hours (longer if refrigerated); so perhaps they meant 5 hours when they said longer?
I couldn’t be happier with the finished product! They are now wrapped up for transport home to my parents house for Christmas. I can’t wait to surprise my Mom with my homemade panettone – so SHHHHH it’s a secret until Christmas!