Having baked so many darn things the past eleven years, I confess I get a little cynical about preparations that seem to closely resemble other things. I do a sort of lazy man’s mental math…let’s see…brioche + sugar + candied fruit = yeah, I think I know what that’s all about. I think that’s why I’ve put off making my own panettone for so long. That and the fact that I’ve tasted so many of the impressively-tall-yet-disappointingly-dry versions. You start to wonder what all the fuss is about. Having finally made my own, now I know — and this stuff is good.
A starter makes a world of difference with panettone. Sure, the crumb isn’t as perfectly even as the store-bought versions, but it’s tender, moist and delectable. Starter-raised panettone makes sublime toast. The day you set out to begin the process, make sure your starter is well fed, happy, and bubbles up like this within four hours of being refreshed:
It can be refrigerated for a day or two once it gets to that point if you wish. It may fall a little, but don’t worry, it’ll still be plenty active. Combine the starter with the flour and warm milk…
…and stir it together. It’ll be a little looser than your original starter was. Don’t let that worry you.
Let it rise for four hours until it’s at this point, then refrigerate it overnight:
Next mix up your fruit blend and leave that out on the counter overnight (covered or uncovered, it’s up to you).
The next day, make your dough. Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle (beater) and stir them to combine.
Next add the starter and eggs…
…and stir about a minute until everything’s wet.
Let the mixture sit about 20 minutes to hydrate, switch to the dough hook and knead about four minutes. If the dough isn’t taking up all the flour or seems stiff, add some of the water. When the dough is nice and smooth, knead in the butter a few tablespoons at a time.
When the butter is incorporated, knead in the fruit blend.
Then the slivered almonds.
When everything’s together, scrape the dough — it will be rather sticky — into a lightly oiled bowl.
Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise for two hours, until it’s about twice its original size.
Divide the dough in half (each half will weigh just under two pounds), then form the dough into rounds.
Gently place the rounds in your forms. They’ll fill them up about half-way. As mentioned in the recipe below, smaller forms will work just fine.
Let the panettones rise about another two hours, meanwhile preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point the centers should have risen to the height of the paper molds. Paint them with egg wash…
…and bake them for 1 1/2 hours. At about the one hour mark have a look-see inside the oven. If the tops are getting very brown, tent them with aluminum foil for the rest of the bake. Remove the breads to a cooling rack and cool completely.
Pannetone will keep perfectly well for a week or more, which makes them great for gift-giving. I’m not sure Mrs. Pastry will let either one of these get out of the house. But then she’s been awfully patient with me and my website shenanigans this year. She deserves all the panettone she can eat.