I’m not sure where I heard about panettone bread for the first time, but I was surprised at never having tasted this traditional Italian Christmas bread before. When I asked my mom about it, she said that my grandma used to make it all the time for the holidays (in coffee cans!), but that after my grandpap died, no one really asked for it anymore, so she stopped making it. It’s such a shame, because I know I would have gobbled it up year after year. If you’ve never heard of it before, panettone is a sweet bread loaded with candied citron, lemon zest and raisins, and baked in a cylindrical mold, which gives it a distinctive look. Now that I’ve made it, I realize what a holiday treasure this bread is to so many families.
Knowing that I wanted to make it for Christmas this year, I started researching panettone recipes some time ago. I had a hard time finding any that looked like clear-cut “winners”, so I did some trial and error. I had a particularly awful experience with one that called for a week-long starter. On Day #4, the starter smelled like the unfortunate aftermath of a college freshman drinking a bit too much jungle juice. Yikes. Seriously, that was NOT a good morning. (It was also the day before Thanksgiving, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time burning candles and spraying Lysol into the air to try to eradicate the awful smell.)
After that, I started reading tons of blogs, forums and message boards to see what I could find about my elusive panettone. I discovered more than one reference to a recipe printed in the December 2008 edition of Gourmet Magazine. After a little more digging, I found that Andrea Meyers had made it, and just a few clicks later, I found an actual pdf of the magazine article on Sullivan Street Bakery’s website; it was actually the owner, Jim Lahey, who created the recipe. I knew immediately that it looked like the type of recipe that could be “the one” and carved out time to make it.
This recipe makes a beautiful, soft, supple dough that is much like a brioche. Added to the dough is half of a vanilla bean (which is removed before baking), rum-soaked raisins, and candied orange peel. This bread is a true show-stopper. It’s stunning, and the flavor lives up to its looks. The bread is incredibly soft and sweet, and just loaded with flavor thanks to the vanilla bean, lemon zest, raisins and candied orange peel.
While I found this to be a very easy dough to mix together and work with, the recipe does take some time to pull together, so you need to plan ahead. I used Andrea’s guide and it worked out perfectly for me:
I’ll be honest, I thought this was totally crazy when I first saw it in the original recipe. Jim Lahey says that by piercing the just-out-of-the-oven bread with skewers and hanging it upside down, it keeps the bread from collapsing while it cools. While skeptical, I followed the recipe and was pleasantly surprised when my bread didn’t tear through the skewers and end up in the bottom of the pot. I don’t have metal skewers, but I had enormous wooden skewers that I had bought for s’mores back in the summer, so I just used those and they seemed to work just fine.
The only issue I had during baking was that one quadrant of the top actually drooped so far over that it fell off during baking (you can see in the photos above that one section is lighter than the rest of the top). The finished product didn’t seem any worse for the wear, as it browned again just fine. Plus, I had a bit to nibble on while the entire loaf cooled ;-)
My Chief Culinary Consultant and I ate half of this loaf in just two days. Fabulous doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’m planning on making two more loaves before Christmas – one for each of our families – and I just might make a third for the two of us to continue to enjoy into the New Year. I may have not grown up on this bread, but it’s something that I’m going to make a part of our Christmas tradition moving forward. I wish my grandma could taste this and we could compare notes; I know she would love it!
In a small bowl, combine the raisins with the rum and 2 tablespoons of hot water. Allow to soak at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until the raisins are plump and most of the liquid has been absorbed, at least 8 hours or overnight.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, lemon zest and vanilla bean on low speed until combined. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, tepid water and honey. With the mixer on low speed, pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Increase the speed to medium-low and mix until all of the ingredients are combined. Add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing until incorporated before adding more. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
Drain the raisins, discard the soaking liquid, and stir together with the candied citron and 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Stir this mixture into the dough with a wooden spoon.
Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a cold oven with the door closed until it has nearly tripled in volume, 12 to 15 hours.
Locate and discard the vanilla bean, then sprinkle the dough lightly with flour and scrape out onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle a bit more flour onto the dough, then fold the edges of the dough in towards the center, forming a loose ball, and place, seam-side down, into the panettone mold. Cover with a damp kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until the dough is just above the top of the mold, 3 to 5 hours.
Preheat oven to 370 degrees F.
Place the dough-filled panettone mold on a baking sheet. Use a very sharp serrated knife to score an "X" across the entire surface of the dough. Place the 1 tablespoon chilled butter in the center of the X and bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out slightly moist but not wet, 60 to 75 minutes (the panettone will be very dark).
Remove from the oven and pierce 12-inch metal or wooden skewers all the way through the panettone (including the paper) 4 inches apart and 1 inch from the bottom so the skewers are parallel. Hang the panettone upside down over a large stockpot and cool completely before cutting. To store the panettone, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then either place in a resealable plastic bag, or wrap again in foil. The bread will keep at room temperature for up to 1 week. (I have not tried freezing the bread, but I believe it would freeze well, wrapped in plastic, then foil, then placed in a resealable bag.)