Christmas is almost here and, among other things, that means that it’s time to bake panettonne. I find hardest thing about this delightfully light and airy bread is remembering how to spell it. If you can remember 2 “t”s, and 2 “n”s, the rest should be easy.
There seems to be agreement that pannettone has its origins in Milan, but there are differing stories about how and who first created it. The most romantic tale, abbreviated here for convenience, is the story of Ughetto, who was in love with a baker’s daughter. Business was bad and Adalgisa, the baker’s daughter, had to help out at the bakey. The baker didn’t approve of Ughetto, and when to baker’s apprentice fell ill, Ughetto disguised himself and was hired. It was Ughetto who came up with the idea of adding dry fruits and butter, and at Christmas the bakery sold so may loaves of this bread that it took care of the baker’s econcomic problems. The baker learned the truth about his new employee and welcomed him with open arms. Ughetto and Adalgisa lived happily ever after.
Another story tells of a chef working for the Duke and Duchess of Ludovico. The chef’s dessert had burned in the last few minutes of baking. When the Duchess called for dessert, he wondered what he could do. If he didn’t come up with an idea he could be executed. The scullery boy told the chef that he had made a bread with leftovers the chef had given him to practice with. The chef had no other recourse so he decorated it and sent it out on a tray. The Duchess thought it was nothing less than inspirational. They wanted to compliment the chef, but he told them it Toni’s bread. And that’s how “pan–de-toni” came about. There seems to be some doubt about this story since Tony, or Toni, is an Americanism of the name Antonio, so it doesn’t fit.
It doesn’t really matter where the name came from. The important thing is that we are able to enjoy it each year. Panettonne has less added sugar than most sweet breads and it may be a good and healthy choice compared to other breads served at this time of the year.
2-1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
4 medium eggs
¼ cup, soft unsalted butter
½ teaspoon Firoi di Sicilia flavoring or 1 teaspoon vanilla + ½ teaspoon lemon or orange extract
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/3 cup dark raisins
1/3 cup dried cranberries
¼ cup dried apricots, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
2 tablespoons orange or lemon zest
The Night Before:
Get the ½ cube of butter and 4 eggs out of the fridge so it will be soft for the following day.
Make the biga the night before at the same time you are getting the butter out of the fridge. Mix 3/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-purpose Flour with 1/16 teaspoon dried yeast (this is just a pinch) and 7-1/2 tablespoons water. When you see it is well mixed, cover it with plastic and allow it to rest overnight 8 to 12 hours.
The following morning for the Dough:
Measure and set aside the various dry fruits for later use.
Warm ¼ cup of milk to between 90° to 100° and then add the dry yeast to it and let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes.
In a mixing bowl add the butter and sugar and beat until smooth, add 3 eggs one at a time.
Separate the yolk from the remaining egg and add it to the mixing bowl. Reserve the egg white for later.
Add 2-1/4 cups King Arthur All-Purpose Flour, 1-1/4 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia flavoring (or the 1 teaspoon vanilla and ½ teaspoon lemon extract), and the yeast/milk mixture.
Mix the dough until it is a soft and smooth. Wash the mixing bowl, and lightly grease it with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic. Allow the dough to rise until it has doubled, about 2 hours, or until it’s light and airy. Deflate the dough gently and then mix in the dry fruit and the 2 tablespoons lemon or orange zest,.
Butter and flour the mold you plan on using.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it into a panetonne mold, or another straight-sided mold that is 1-1/2 to 2 quarts in volume. Cover and allow it to rise just until it reaches the rim of the mold, or pan. (*Note – you may have to trim the height of the paper mold if it is too large.)
Pre-heat the oven to 425° and bake 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 400° and let the bread for bake about 35 to 45 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 185°. You can check the temperature using a digital thermometer, or check for doneness using a wooden skewer to see when it comes out clean.