This Italian Christmas bread is the fluffiest we ever baked!
This is a journey to find the ultimate panettone recipe, like the road we traveled to get to the best croissants.
We always take our time and go through several attempts to learn and adapt and modify until we are satisfied with our (version of) a recipe.
So we start the panettone adventure this Christmas and hope to have our favorite version somewhere before Easter, but by all means way before next Christmas.
Baking a good traditional panettone was always on our list. We baked panettone-like breads in the past, but never the original version with sourdough and long mixing and fermentation times.
We think this initial recipe is already good enough to share with you and will give great baking fun! And of course we will add more detail, tips and tricks as we gain more experience with future bakes.
Update March 2016
We baked the panettone several times and each time with great result and very much to our satisfaction. Because we liked it so much we did not change much. We did add the pearl sugar after the first try, which we like a lot because of that extra crunch to accompany the fluffiness. We made a version with candied peel, but have to say we still do not mind leaving it out and adding some cranberries for example, because the peel needs to be of great quality and not too overpowering to make it work.
We also made the cousin of the panettone, the pandoro. It contains much more sugar and butter than the panettone, has no filling in the shape of raisins or peel and is also lots of fun to make. The smell of the fermenting dough of both breads is amazing. If we have to choose at this moment we like the panettone best of the two, it is just a little bit more exiting and it also tastes better when not completely fresh from the oven or after some time in the freezer.
Finding a good recipe to start with
The first thing we do when tackling a new recipe is finding a good basic and above all trustworthy source to start with. We browsed our baking bookcase and decided to use the ‘panettone with natural starter’ recipe from the, excellent but sometimes hard to read for a home baker, book ‘Advanced bread and pastry’ by Michel Suas. Because this book is aimed at professional bakers it takes some advanced thinking and calculating to get to a recipe that is doable and fun for a more experienced home baker. Also his instructions are sparse and scattered. Hopefully you will not say this about our ultimate recipe but you have to allow us some time to still improve on the version you’ll find below.
Other sources we consulted are:
- The Wild Yeast blog
- ‘The fundamental techniques of classic bread baking’ by the French Culinary Institute
- ‘The Italian baker’ by Carol Field
- Our own sensible baking heads
We want to share with you our attempts to get to a recipe that we are totally content with and that will work for all slightly experienced home bakers. Maybe these attempts will already give you the inspiration to give it a try too or to give us some advice based on your own experience.
The basic recipe
We started by recalculating the amounts of Suas formula. The first attempt we stayed really close to the recipe steps, which are spread over three days. The first day of the process works well if you make large amounts of dough, but for home bakers we found it is no problem to skip this step and still get a great result. That is why our basic recipe version is a two day process, where the steps of day one and two are merged.
This recipe yields two panettones of around 460 grams each. The dough is extremely wet which can make you doubt if your amounts are right, but have faith!
This step of making the initial dough is ideally done in the evening. This way you can continue with the recipe on day 2 in the morning, because you must take into account the long proofing times of the final dough (up to 6 hours for the final proofing alone).
Ingredients for panettone dough nr 1
220 g strong white bread flour
120 g water
1.5 g instant yeast or 4.5 g fresh yeast
20 g sourdough starter (100% hydration)
one egg yolk (20 g)
45 g sugar
4 g diastatic malt (optional, gives great color)
45 g butter, softened
Making dough nr 1
In the bowl of your standing mixer add all the ingredients from the list above.
Mix on a low speed for no more than one minute, until all ingredients are combined. You could call this a ‘shaggy mass’.
Cover the bowl and leave to rest overnight at room temperature.
Panettone is usually made in classic panettone molds you can also find in our baking shop. You can also use a well greased baking tin. The dimensions should be around 13,5 cm / 5.3 inch diameter and a height of 9.5 cm / 3.7 inch.
Panetonne needs to cool upside down after baking, because the delicate and fluffy bread would collapse if you leave it standing up after baking. You can, rather ingeniously, prepare the molds for this by sticking bamboo skewers into them like you see in the picture. Directly after baking you hang the panettones upside down between for example two chairs. Alternatively you can also lay the panettones on their sides on a pillow after baking, so we have read but not (yet) tried.
The dried fruit does not have to be soaked before adding, because it will spend many hours in a very wet dough.
Ingredients for the final panettone dough
The dough you made on day one
60 g strong white bread flour*
30 g water (part 1)
one egg yolk (20g)
2.8 g salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange zest
50 g sugar
70 g butter, softened
30 g water (part 2)
10 g honey
70 g raisins
70 g candied orange peel**
25 g candied lemon peel**
some egg white for brushing the tops
pearl sugar for decorating (optional)
*We used French type 45 in both the first and final dough and added 3 grams gluten powder to the final dough for more strength.
**Due to lack of homemade candied orange and lemon peel we used 95 grams of dried cranberries for these test batches.
Making the final dough
Start by combining dough nr. 1 with the flour, water part 1, egg yolk, salt, vanilla and orange zest.
Knead for 4 minutes (stand mixer on speed 2) to develop the dough. The dough should be well developed before adding sugar or butter, as both sugar and butter prohibited development of the gluten. Then add half the sugar and knead for 2 minutes. Then add the second half of the sugar and again knead for 2 minutes.
Now gradually add the butter in stages during the next 4 minutes of kneading.
Next add the water part 2 and the honey and slowly knead (lowest possible speed so the water will not slosh out of the bowl) for 2 minutes until the water is completely absorbed by the dough. You should should now have a smooth yet very sticky dough. You should be able to pull a window pane from the dough like you see in the picture. When you have reached this stage you can add the raisins and candied peel and incorporate them into the dough. Knead/mix for 1 minute at a low speed and all the fruit should be distributed through the dough.
Cover the bowl and leave to rest for 45 minutes.
After the rest, perform two complete sets (so one set directly after the other without rest in between) of stretch and folds and see the dough develop from very slack into a plumper shape that somewhat resembles a ball. Use a dough scraper and use some flour on your bench and dough to make this task easier and less sticky. Cover the dough and let rest for 25 minutes.
Now divide the dough into two equal parts and pre-shape them into a flat ball resembling shape.
Again cover and let rest for 25 minutes.
Shape the two pre-shaped pieces of dough into still sort of flat balls as well as you can, use some flour and a dough scraper to tuck the dough under. Make sure the shapes will fit into the panettone molds. Quickly with one swoop of your dough scraper lift each dough ball and put them inside the panetonne molds. Cover the molds with floured cling film.
You are now at the final proofing stage which will take, depending on your room and dough temperature, between 4 and 6 hours.
Baking the panettone
When the top of the dough is starting to reach the rim of the paper mold, preheat your oven to 175 °C / 345 °F, conventional setting. Make sure you have something prepared to hang the panettones upside down as soon as you take them out of the oven. We used two chairs for this.
The panettones are ready for baking when the top of the dough is slightly above the rim of the paper molds. Just before you take the breads to the oven you can cross cut with scissors and/or glaze your panettones and sprinkle them with pearl sugar (use egg white to make the sugar stick). Take the molds to the oven. You can try and add some steam during the first stages of baking. The first results you see in these pictures were also baked in a household oven and a little steam was added.
Bake for 40 minutes, keep an eye on the color of your panetonne. We had to turn the oven down to 160 °C / 320 °F after 15 minutes to stop the browning process. Take them out of the oven and immediately hang them upside down so they will not collapse and be careful as the panetonnes are very fragile at this stage. Leave them hanging for at least two hours, so the crumb can stabilize.
Enjoy the fluffiness while they are still a bit warm!