The king of Christmas is traditional panettone made on lievito madre, ‘mother dough’. It requires considerable dedication, sacrifice and engineering nous to construct hanging apparatus for the panettoni.
This is a serious project so I’ll get to the heart of the matter without a preamble about random nonsense.
Easy panettone? No such thing!
You have to be patient. You have to have patience, lots of it. Patience, grasshopper. You need to be prepared to get up at 4am to feed your lievito madre or at most make do with 6 hours of sleep.
No going away for a week. Even going out is out of the question in the final days. You need a warm place in the house: an airing cupboard, an oven that will keep temperature as low as 30C, a warming drawer, a heating exchange cupboard or else you have to be living in Australia.
You need a standing mixer. You need panettone paper cases, 13cm or 16cm dia. You need bamboo skewers. You need to know what you’re doing with sourdough and have a sourdough starter on the go at 100% hydration. If I’ve lost you now, don’t go on (but do if you’re determined). Did I mention patience?
How long does it take?
Assuming you have a going sourdough starter (I should not recommend embarking on this project unless you have SOME sourdough experience at least), it takes 4-6 days to convert the starter to lievito madre. Remember the thing about not going away above?
The conversion means feeding the starter initially every 12 hours and every 4 hours for the last 24 hours. Sleep? Who needs to sleep if there’s panettone in the making?
The making of the actual dough starts at the end of the feeding frenzy, on the evening before The Baking Day. Yes, you can get some sleep that night - if you manage to nod off, with all the excitement.
Tips and things to remember
On the D-Day (P-Day?) make absolutely sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. You don’t want to spoil all the effort by dumping a fridge-cold egg into the sensitive dough.
There are five stages of making the main dough, each about adding ingredients in specific order and at precise quantities. No, I’m sorry – it’s not for those who slosh, dollop, drizzle and dust. Kitchen scales and an obsessive mind win – hence I’ve been reasonably successful at this panettone malarky.
Once the dough is made and shaped, there comes what I find the trickiest part: transporting the dough balls into the paper panettone cases. It’s very much like trying to shape slime!
The paper cases should be skewered with bamboo sticks, like rails. What’s that for? Why, that’s the best bit!
Why hang the panettone?
The construction skills mentioned above are also important because the fun thing in the final stage of panettone making is the hanging. In order to keep the air within the crumb, which is what makes it so Fluffy Central, and to stop it from escaping up and leaving collapsed sinkage behind, the breads need to be inverted upside down while cooling.
There are instructions below and ideas for the construction of the gallows. I have found (the hard way) that an extended clothes rack serves the purpose the best.
Bake the best panettone
I have now baked about 10 or 15 panettoni on natural starter and they have been pretty much all successful. I’m deeply indebted to Susan of Wild Yeast Blog (sadly now defunct, it seems), so if you’d rather get the instructions at source, off you go – I won’t be offended. If you stick around, I’ll be honoured.
Alternatives to panettone
No, it’s not ‘easy’ – ‘easy panettone’ is a fallacy and an oxymoron. But this is a very good one leavened on baker’s yeast. It only takes 18 hours from start(er) to finish!
An alternative to panettone altogether is pandoro. Also yeast-risen, deliriously rich but with zero raisin content – that’s why the Weather Man doesn’t care for it much.
A thoroughly decent Christmas bread which is not only doable but actually easy comes from Norway. Try julekake if I managed to put you off giving panettone a go.
Or you could throw in the towel and bake some mince pies instead!
First you need to thicken your ordinary starter; this will take minimum 2 days, feeding every 12 hours.
1. Place the starter in a small container with a lid and mix it with 10g water and 20g flour. It will get thicker, to 50% hydration (twice as much flour as water) after a couple of feedings but it’s good to mature it longer. I usually do it over 3-4 days, so 6-8 feedings. ‘Knead’ it with a spoon into a ball, cover with the lid and keep at warm room temperature. At 12 hours intervals discard all but 10g of starter and mix it with fresh 10g water and 20g flour.
2. Now you need to turn the thick starter into lievito madre which is an intensely fed starter: like a battery chicken. Feeding needs to be done every 4 hours, with a 6 hour break for the night.
- EXAMPLE OF TIMING:
- Day 1 feedings:
- 4pm 20g starter, 20g water, 20g flour
- 8pm 20g starter, 10g water, 20g flour
- 12pm 10g starter 10g water 20g flour
- Day 2 feedings:
- 6am and 10am 20g starter, 10g water, 20g flour
- 2pm 40g starter 20g water 40g flour
- 6pm make the first dough
The container with the starter needs to live in a warm place (see above) at all times, 30C/85F.
Between the feeds the starter should puff and bubble up; use a small container (apart from the last feed) so you can see its progress.
- INGREDIENTS FOR PANETTONE
- This makes 1500g of dough, to fill 3 x 13cm (500g) cases or 2 x 16cm (750g) cases.
- For the first dough:
- 346g flour, strong white bread or half and half strong and Italian 00
- 190g water at room temperature
- 5g fresh baker’s yeast or 1g (1⁄3 tsp) osmotolerant yeast, or 1.3 grams (1⁄2 tsp) instant yeast
- 83g caster sugar
- 3 large (55g) egg yolks
- 7g (11⁄2 tsp) diastatic malt powder (or 7g malt extract)
- 83g unsalted butter, softened
- 86g mature starter (lievito madre) from above
- For the final dough:
- Step I:
- all of the first dough
- 82g flour, as above
- 5g (1 tsp) fine salt
- 11⁄2 (25g) large egg yolk
- 2 tsp good quality vanilla extract or seeds scraped from 1 pod
- zest grated from 1 orange or 1 tsp good quality orange extract
- 40g water at room temperature
- Step II:
- 82g caster sugar
- Step III:
- 126g unsalted butter, softened
- Step IV:
- 19g honey
- 74g water at room temperature
- Step V:
- 150g raisins
- 100g candied orange or mixed citrus peel
- For the glaze:
- 80g caster sugar
- 1 tbsp. ground almonds
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp. corn flour
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- 1 small (30g) egg white
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- For the topping:
- icing sugar
- Swedish pearl sugar
- whole blanched almonds
- standing mixer with a dough hook attachment
- 3 x 13cm (500g) cases or 2 x 16cm (750g) cases
- 6 bamboo skewers
Prepare the first dough the evening before baking; suggested timing above.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer mix all of the first dough ingredients until smooth. Cover the bowl with cling film and ferment for 12 hours at warm room temperature (about 22C/72F), or longer for a cooler room. The dough will more than triple in volume and almost start to collapse.
For the final dough follow the steps:
4. Add the ingredients for step 1 to first dough. Mix at low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula if necessary.
5. Turn the speed to medium. Add the sugar in 5 or 6 goes, mixing continuously at medium speed for 2 minutes after each addition. Continue after you’ve added all the sugar until the dough is smooth and elastic, bounces off the sides and bottom of the bowl and almost passes the windowpane test.
6. Windowpane test: pull a little of the dough between your fingers and stretch until it’s almost see-through. If it doesn’t tear, that means the gluten is fully developed.
7. Add the butter and turn the mixer back on at low speed. Mix for 2 minutes, then up the speed to medium and continue for about 10 minutes until the butter is completely absorbed. Do another windowpane test: the dough should now form thin membrane without tearing. If not, mix for another 4-5 minutes.
8. In low speed add the honey and half the amount of water. Mix until fully absorbed. Add the remaining water and mix until fully absorbed.
9. Still in low speed add the raisins and peel and mix only until roughly evenly distributed.
10. Butter a large container (plastic box or a large shallow bowl) and pour the dough into it. Close the lid or place the box/bowl in a large plastic bag and prove for an hour in a warm room; stretching and folding twice every 20 minutes.
11. To do that, butter your fingers lightly, grab the underside of the dough and fold the dough in three over itself along the length, like an envelope. Turn the container and do the same fold, stretching gently, in the opposite direction along the width. Repeat again in both directions, cover and leave for another 20 minutes; then repeat the stretching, folding and 20 minute proving.
12. Turn the dough out onto buttered surface and divide in half or in three (depending on the cases you’re using) with a dough scraper. Gently push the dough portions with the scraper and your hand to form light balls. Leave them uncovered for 20 minutes.
13. Prepare the paper cases for hanging: pierce each case near the bottom with two thin wooden skewers to make kind of rails. Place the cases on the oven rack so you can transport it into the oven later without disturbing the panettoni.
14. Tighten the rested dough into taut balls by folding it on itself from all sides; cupping it with your hands and dragging gently over the work surface. Drop them into the cases, smooth side up. Prove at a warm room temperature for about 2 hours (depending on how warm it is; it might take much longer than this). When they have risen so the sides of the dough are about 3cm below the rim of the paper case, it’s ready to bake.
15. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4 – or use fan oven at 170C/325F if available. Make the glaze: mix all the glaze ingredients together to smooth paste. Brush or pipe it gently over the risen dome, making sure not to deflate it; use the glaze sparingly as it weighs down the dome. BTW the most impressive dome will be obtained if you don’t glaze the panettone and just dust it with icing sugar after baking – but the glaze is to die for. Sift icing sugar over the glazed domes, sprinkle some pearl sugar and arrange almonds on top.
16. Slide the rack with panettoni into the oven and bake, without opening the oven door, for 35 minutes for the medium ones and 45 minutes the large ones. In the meantime prepare your hanging apparatus: I used piles of books set next to each other at less then the skewers’ length distance or a clothes rack turned on the side. Anything that will let you hang the breads upside down propping it on the skewers will do the job.
17. Hang the panettoni immediately after they are out of the oven; use gloves to handle them as the oven glove may be too bulky. Leave them hanging for at least 5 hours or overnight; this will prevent collapsing of this airy, delicate crumb and will not affect the freshness, especially in glazed ones.
Five hours later or the next morning slice them with a large bread knife, paper cases and all, and wish you’d made double the amount.