Homemade panettone: Thinking outside the (blue) box

One of our readers recently commented on our Tuscan coffeecake post, as follows:

“Panettone is a holiday must – it has been part of my husband’s holiday tradition since he was a child. I have tried to make it for the past 4-5 years for the holidays but it never turns out quite right. Often it is too dry. I asked my husband’s aunt in Italy for a recipe. Although she makes just about everything, she said that panettone is the one thing she buys because it is difficult to make correctly. Looking forward to your panettone recipe and any tips you may have! -desperatelyseekingpanettone.”

Dear Desperate: My husband, too, is a panettone fanatic. When those bright blue boxes appear in the supermarket in early December, Rick always tries to sneak one into the shopping cart.

“We don’t need that,” I tell him. “I’ll be making panettone in a couple of weeks.”

His face falls like a little boy who’s just been told to return the box of Monster Choco-Crispy Nuggets breakfast cereal to the shelf. “But, this is the REAL panettone. From Italy. I like the real thing.”

Then I remind him that his non-panettone-loving brother will, without fail, donate to him the “real Italian panettone” he gets every Christmas from his Italian boss.

“Yeah, but still…” He looks longingly at the box. I tug him along to the wine section to take his mind off panettone.

STALE panettone.

Because, let’s face it: that imported Italian panettone isn’t exactly fresh-baked. I mean, how far ahead do you think they bake those cellophane-sealed loaves? Two months? Six? And what exactly do they put in them to make them stay “fresh” on the trip from Italy to an American warehouse to the shelf of, say, Kmart, where they might enjoy an extended stay?

Wanna take a guess? Bet the ingredients list includes more than butter, sugar, eggs, and flour.

And anyway, I’ve always found imported panettone dry. I’ve heard that’s the way it’s supposed to be: better for dunking in your cappuccino that way. But we Americans equate “dry” with “stale,” when it comes to baked goods. The moister the fresher, the fresher the better, that’s our mantra.

And that’s where I come down with panettone. I like a nice, moist loaf. Oh sure, not like a box-mix butter cake, something so sodden it can barely hold itself upright. I mean… just right. Not sawdust-y, not wet, but combining elements of both dry and moist to arrive at a happy medium.

This panettone (she says immodestly) fills the bill.

A tad on the dry side, to satisfy those lovers of “real” Italian panettone and their cups of espresso, this bread is still moist enough to satisfy those of us with more American tastes. And speaking of taste, not for me the sticky citron and bitter dried peel of Italian panettone. Give me golden raisins and apricots and cranberries and pineapple any day. SO not traditional… but yummy. Go the peel route if your audience demands it.

One final note: I bow to Italy’s superior panettone methodology in one respect: Fiori di Sicilia. Literally “flowers of Sicily,” this traditional panettone flavoring combines vanilla and citrus in an aromatic, Creamsicle-like fashion. Just a touch—1/2 teaspoon—in your American-Style Panettone is all you need to give a nod to Italy’s “real” panettone.

img_0671.JPG

Let’s start with a starter. It’s this overnight starter that helps keep your panettone fresh—not fresh for 6 months, but fresh on the counter, well-wrapped, for probably a week. Plenty long enough, if you have a panettone apprecianado in the house.

Notice that this starter—Italians call it a biga—is much stiffer than the normal starter you’d make with a pinch of yeast, and equal parts flour and water by weight. This one is 3 parts flour to 2 parts water (by weight), and stirs up into an actual dough, rather than a sticky starter.

img_0685.JPG

Fourteen or so hours later (basically, from late afternoon to early the next morning), the starter has bubbled up and become much softer. That’s the yeast, growing and giving off CO2, alcohol, and organic acids.

img_0688.JPG

Mix the starter with the remaining dough ingredients, except for the fruit.

img_0691.JPG

Use your mixer’s beater paddle to bring everything together.

img_0692.JPG

Then knead with a dough hook. Notice that this is a pretty sticky dough; it won’t quite clear the sides of the bowl on its own.

img_0693.JPG

About halfway through the kneading time, scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl, and continue to knead.

img_0694.JPG

After 7 minutes (total), the dough may clear the sides of the bowl. Or it may look like this. Either way, it’s fine.

You can also make this dough in your bread machine set on the dough cycle, of course. Scroll down (WAY down) to see photos.

img_0695.JPG

Place the kneaded dough into the rising container of your choice. I like this 8-cup measure; it makes it easy to track the dough’s rise.

img_0700.JPG

Let the dough rise for an hour or so; notice it won’t come anywhere near doubling in bulk. That’s OK. The yeast is gradually finding its footing in this relatively high-sugar, high-fat dough.

img_0701.JPG

Once the dough has risen, gently deflate it and knead in the dried fruit. I’m using dried cranberries, pineapple, apricot, and golden raisins.

img_0702.JPG

A mixer equipped with the beater paddle works very well here.

img_0703.JPG

Round the dough into a ball.

img_0704.JPG

Hey, what’s with the hole?! I find that baking the panettone in its traditional tall, round shape is problematic. The outside inevitably becomes dry and overly browned before the inside is totally baked. Solution?

img_0705.JPG

A tube pan. Snuggle that doughnut-shaped panettone right down into a lightly greased tube pan.

img_0706.JPG

Cover with plastic wrap. Or a throwaway shower cap from a hotel—that’s what I’m using here. I ask all of the traveling folks at King Arthur to bring me back shower caps; they get a good workout in the kitchen. (The caps, not the travelers…)

img_0711.JPG

About 2 1/2 hours later, the panettone has risen nicely. Yes, it is a slow riser; don’t rush it. Just build it into your schedule, like you used to do with the baby’s nap time.

img_0729.JPG

Bake the panettone till it’s a light golden brown…

img_0730.JPG

…then tent it with aluminum foil, and continue to bake till the center registers 190°F on an instant-read thermometer.

img_0731.JPG

Remove from the oven. While it’s still warm, brush the crust with melted butter; a silicone brush does a gentle, thorough job.  Again, not traditional—but definitely American. From corn-on-the-cob to pancakes to cinnamon bread, what do we NOT like to gild with melted butter?

img_0738.JPG

Remove the panettone from the pan. If your audience is very traditional, serve sliced, so they don’t see you’ve baked it in—horrors!—a tube pan.

Now, I know everyone will ask—can I bake it in a bundt-style pan? Yes, so long as it’s large enough. A 9” to 10” pan should do the trick. How about baking it in a free-form wreath shape? I believe this dough is stiff enough, with the fruit, to handle that. It’ll spread and flatten a bit rather than rise quite so high. And finally, if you insist on baking it in the traditional round, tall pan, go for it; you’ll need to bake the panettone longer, and tent with foil if it appears to be browning too quickly. Check out our Ginger-Apricot Panettone recipe for baking instructions using a traditional pan.

img_0687.JPG

Now, for the bread machine method. Put the dough ingredients, including the starter/biga, into the bucket of your machine. Press the start button. Here’s the dough after 5 minutes.

img_0696.JPG

Here it is fully kneaded, and ready to rise.

img_0698.JPG

Here it is risen…

img_0699.JPG

…and ready to knead in the fruit. Just press the start button again, and stop it once the fruit is kneaded in.

img_0709.JPG

Want to make mini-panettones for gifts? Divide the dough into 10 pieces (about 4 ounces each), and shape each piece into a ball.

img_0710.JPG

Place the balls in lightly greased mini-panettone paper bakers.

img_0712.JPG

Let the panettone rise…

img_0721.JPG

…and bake till golden. The instant-read thermometer will read 190°F (at least; it’s OK if it goes a bit over). By the way, I like my Thermapen, because it really is INSTANT; no waiting around for the temperature to gradually stabilize.

img_0723.JPG

Brush with melted butter.

img_0733.JPG

Sweet little minis!

img_0728.JPG

Feeling fancy? Tie a bow around them, slip into plastic, and hand out to your panettone-loving friends.

Read, bake, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for American-Style Panettone.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Imported Bauli panettone (via Amazon), 16-ounce loaf, $12.99; 81¢/ounce

Panera Cranberry-Walnut Panettone, 21-oz. loaf, $7.99; 38¢/ounce

Bake at home: American-Style Panettone, 43-ounce loaf, $7.44; 17¢/ounce

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Paul Ferrario

    This version looks really good. My family is Milanese. They came to this country in the early 1910’s, and with them the Panetonne family tradition. Each subsequent generation had at least 3 people who would supply Panetonne at Christmas and Easter to the extended family.The final baker was my great Zia Millie. She passed away at age 95 in 1990. I am the keeper of the recipe. I try to bake 3 or 4 batches each Christmas season. Our recipe is very similar to the “no biga” recipe that is posted on this site. Most Italian home cooks here in the states would have baked these on the cheap. I can only imagine Millie’s face if she saw me spending good money on something frivolous (in her mind) like Fiori di Sicilia. To save money, they went light on the candied fruits as well and we all used pignoli from the huge pine tree on our cousin’s property. I am going to try your recipe above this year, and I am sure it will be lovely. I just find it funny sometimes how some of the basic foods from my childhood are now considered to be almost at the gourmet level.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Thank you so much for sharing your great memories Paul. I swoon at the thought of fresh pignoli nuts. ~ MJ

  2. EK Sommer

    Loved this post!! I was looking for a suggestion for baking Panettone without the requisite pan, which I do not have. I do have an angel food cake pan. But I have to agree with your husband–I actually like the bread “old”–something about the way the flavors blend after it has been sitting around for a while–so long as the oils have not gone rancid, though! Thanks for the good instructions.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      You’re welcome – I hope you enjoy your panettone this year. I was just thinking, when it “matures,” I might make a bread pudding out of it… 🙂 PJH

  3. joe sunderland,,,UK

    I made a panattone in a russell hobs bread machine last year using there recipe from the book on the 4hr raisin bake setting using easy bake dried yeast,it turned out very good but when the raisin bleep went and the goods fell into the mix the trapdoor melted onto the cake,so have swopped it for a large panasonic mc will try that and the oven as well but dont think they will turn out like the three mari italian ones i have had in the past,even the boxes are a work of art,tried the starters and sourdough methods but failed on both counts but will soldier on lol,,joe sunderland
    Good luck Joe! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. pjl110

    Thanks, PJ…made a third batch today (I’m just a glutton for punishment) and they came out perfect! I am SO stoked! My DH is beside himself with joy. The little papers I bought from KAF are perfect for the mini-panettones as is the dried fruit mix!

    Awesome! There’s nothing like successfully baking a Christmas classic, AND having your family like it. Buon natale! PJH

    Reply
  5. pjl110

    Just made 2 batches and they both came out fine – one in a tube pan and the other in the small panettone cups…cute as the dickens.

    My question is how does one accurately measure 1/16th of a teaspoon as called for in making the starter? I guesstimated but would sure like to know how most folks do that.

    Nice! Thanks for sharing your success here. It’s not really necessary to measure 1/16 teaspoon of yeast all that accurately for this recipe. I eyeball half of a 1/8 teaspoon measure, but a pinch should be just as good – PJH

    Reply
  6. sandylee6

    I have your standard panettone paper pans, I would like to use them here and give this as 2 gifts – would this be enough for two paper pans?? and would the cook time be about the same??

    Thanks in advance, I adore your products and this blog.

    Hi – It takes a recipe with about 3 cups of flour to fill one of the paper pans; this recipe has 4 cups of flour. So you could increase the recipe by half, and it would fill two pans. Hope this helps – PJH

    Reply
  7. angela

    Gooday

    Just wondering how long this beautigul bread last and how to store it? Also how many months ahead can I make it?\

    Thanks

    Hi Angela – This isn’t the kind of panettone that lasts for months. Like most breads, it’ll stay nice and fresh at room temperature for several days, and will then start to become stale. Keep it tightly wrapped in a plastic bag; don’t refrigerate. And enjoy it toasted once it starts to get stale. For long-term storage, wrap and freeze – it should be OK for a couple of months in the freezer. PJH

    Reply
  8. Vladimir

    Great recipe. I noticed your dried fruit blend contains sulfur dioxide; does it inhibit yeast growth? I’m pretty sure potassium sorbate does, as far as preservatives go.

    Nah, it’s fine. Plus you knead it in after the first rise, which gives the yeast a good chance to get going anyway… If you have problems with sulfured fruits, though, we also offer unsulfured; individually, not blended. PJH

    Reply
  9. Umbriago

    I really appreciated all the comments and the Pannetone looks much
    nicer than my breadmachine recipe. But, I’ve looked up and down this
    page and for the life of me couldn’t find your recipe. What did I miss?

    Hi – Click on the recipe at the very end of the photos. Or click on it here. Enjoy! – PJH

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *