Panettone is a traditional Italian staple around Christmas time. Shaped like a giant mushroom, its flaky consistency is something like a cross between croissant and donut dough. Although many grocery stores throughout Long Island sell boxes of imported panettone all the way from Milano where it originates, there is nothing like a hot homemade version fresh out of the oven. Not only is it delicious with a cup of piping hot espresso or a crisp flute of prosecco, it also makes a unique gift.
You’re probably wondering what the heck panettone means. Derived from the Milanese dialect term pan de ton meaning “bread of luxury,” panettone has an interesting history. My favorite theory dates its creation to the 1600s when a rich nobleman fell in love with a peasant baker he often watched while hunting for falcons. The poor baker girl used cornmeal to bake bread since flour was so expensive, creating dense and flat loaves that were hardly as delicate as she. Unable to watch from afar any longer, the nobleman disguised himself as a baker to be closer to his love. Soon, he realized how much he truly enjoyed baking. He sold his falcon gear to buy the expensive and prized flour that would soon become his legendary treats. He created a rich dough of sugar, yeast, egg, butter and dried fruit. Soon people all over Italy heard about the delicious bread and the nearby duchess convinced the nobleman’s father to allow him to marry the peasant baker girl. This dolce amore of his was truly a sweet success, as people came from afar to buy his bread of luxury.
Once you bake this you will understand why it is such a luxury! Since I can remember, my Italian mother has spent the week before Christmas baking up a storm. Upon trying it myself for the first time, I soon realized why it took a whole week! However, while time consuming, the recipe is fairly simple. It’s a great activity for a snow day or a lazy Christmas afternoon. My Mom has been using the same recipe from a cookbook from the ’90s called Fresh Ways with Italian Cooking my whole life. After some years, here is her tweaked adaptation. Buon natale!
Inspired by original recipe from Sunset Cookbook: Fresh Ways with Italian Cooking by the Editors of Sunset Books & Sunset Magazines. Copyright: 1992. Editor: Elizabeth Hogan.
Mrs. Cosentino’s Pannetone
4 teaspoons dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), room temperature
4 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoons lemon zest
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter, melted
3/4 cup diced candied citrus or raisins
1/4 cup whole roasted almonds, skins removed, chopped
1 large egg white
6 sugar cubes, coarsely crushed
2 small brown paper lunch bags
Sprinkle yeast over warm water in bowl of a mixer and let sit until foamy (about 5 minutes). Add sugar, salt, stick of butter, egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest and 2 cups of flour. Mix on low speed until flour is moistened. Scrape excess flour stuck to insides of bowl to integrate. Mix on high for about 3 to 4 minutes until dough becomes glossy and starts to pull from sides of bowl. Switch to bread hook. With the mixer on low, slowly add remaining 1¼ cups of flour. Once integrated, mix on high for about 3 to 4 minutes until dough forms a ball and does not stick to the bowl. If dough is too sticky, add 1 teaspoon of flour at a time until it doesn’t stick. Place dough in a bowl, cover with plastic and two dishtowels and let rise in a warm place (next to a fire place is best) for about 1 hour until dough doubles in size. Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place one paper bag inside the other and open bags. Fold over edges of bags until they are about 7 inches tall. Brush the tablespoon of melted butter on the inside of the bag. Make sure to completely cover the whole inside of the bag.
Once doubled in size, place dough on a floured surface and flatten slightly. Knead in candied citrus or raisins, ¼ cup at a time. Drop dough into buttered bag and cover again with plastic and dishtowels. Let rise for about 30-45 minutes until rises to just under the top of the bag.
Once dough has risen again, brush the top with egg whites. Sprinkle on crushed sugar cubes and chopped almonds. Place the bag in a loaf tray. Bake for 30 minutes at 350. Lower heat to 325 degrees and cook for another 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Removed and allow to cool.
To serve, tear off paper bag and cut vertically in triangular chunks.