Traditional panettone, (yellow in color because it has butter and egg yolks in it) is studded with raisins and the candied peels of lemons and oranges. It’s cooked in a cylindrical paper and, when it rises, it puffs out of the top of the paper so that the fruit bread looks like a muffin. While some fruitcake varieties incorporate alcohol into the recipe, panettone does not – but it goes quite well with a glass of sweet wine!
In the weeks before Christmas, hundreds of millions of panettone are sold all over Italy, and throughout Europe, as well as in North America because panettone is eaten during the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations—which last for 10 days or so in Italy. Like the Christmas fruitcake so commonly offered by relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors in the U.S., it is not uncommon for an Italian family to receive as many as ten or twenty loaves of panettone during the holidays. Yet, familiarity does not diminish the appreciation most people feel when panettone is offered—often brought along as a gift when invited for lunch or dinner during the holiday season.
Traditionally, panettone is served after the enormous Christmas day feast or on Santo Stefano (that is, December 26th, a national holiday in Italy)—but also on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. However, very few have any room left for dessert after these feasts, so panettone is saved to be eaten in the morning with caffe latte or cappuccino, or as a snack with an afternoon espresso. In the U.S. French Toast panettone is a breakfast favorite during the Christmas season.
Making your own panettone gives you the liberty to include whatever fruits and nuts you like – including candied fruits, if that’s to your liking. You can find the traditional papers that are used to bake panettone in specialty kitchen shops like Sur la Table or online through Amazon and King Arthur.
The Traditional Recipe for Panettone
2 1/4 cups flour, divided
2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons apricot jam
1 tablespoon instant yeast, divided
1/4 cup sugar
12 tablespoons softened butter, divided
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons good quality vanilla
3/4 teaspoon orange extract
3/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped fine
1/2 cup golden raisins, chopped fine
1/2 cup pecans, chopped fine
Make the sponge:
Place 1 1/2 cups flour, 2/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons apricot jam, and 1 teaspoon yeast in a small bowl and whisk together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rest for 3 hours.
Make the dough:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the sponge, 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon yeast. Use the hook attachment to knead the dough until the mixture is smooth and stretchy, about 3-5 minutes.
Add 3 egg yolks, one at a time, and knead until the dough is smooth, shiny, and stretchy.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Return the dough to the mixer and add salt, vanilla, lemon and orange flavoring, honey, and 1 teaspoon yeast. Knead for 1 minute.
Add 3 egg yolks and knead until incorporated. Add the 12 tablespoons of softened butter, one tablespoon at a time. Knead until the dough is soft, shiny and very stretchy, about 5 minutes. Dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Toss the chopped raisins, cherries and pecans with 2 tablespoons of flour. Add them to the dough and knead briefly, until just mixed in.
Place the dough in a oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a ball. Place the dough inside of a 6 inch diameter panettone mold, or use a clean, buttered coffee can lined with parchment paper. Make a small cross in the top of the dough with scissors.
Let the dough rise in a warm place until triple in size, which may take several hours since the dough is cold from the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F for 30 minutes.
Place the panettone in the oven, and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Bake the panettone for about 1 hour, until it has risen high and springs back a little when pressed on top.
Let the panettone cool in the pan on a rack.
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1-2 tablespoons milk
Make the icing :
Melt 2 tablespoons butter and whisk into 1 cup powdered sugar. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, a pinch of salt, and 1-2 tablespoons of milk until the desired consistency is reached. Drizzle icing decoratively over top of panettone.
Store panettone wrapped in plastic for up to 1 week.
Note: Traditional Italian panettones are made with a special flavoring called “fiori di sicilia”, which you can purchase at gourmet stores and online, and use in place of the lemon and orange extract.