I have many excuses. It was Diwali and I was busy. I had some workshops and did not have the time. Weddings and birthdays came and went. And, oh yes, the currency was demonetised. Does that sound reasons enough for not bothering about the blog? I can see a lot of disapproving heads shaking. Bear with me, please. It is not that I have not been baking. In fact, some of them have been photographed diligently with absolute conviction that they were going to make it to the blog. But alas, all the best-laid plans of mice and men. . .
What better way to make a new beginning than to get into the whole Christmas spirit of things. Every year, I try to find something new, or at least new to me (oh well, or something I have not baked in a really long time) to add to my list of Christmas bakes. Last year it was the Dundee cake, the year before it was the cute little stained-glass cookies which were trending everywhere. This time around, I thought I would go with a bread, an Italian bread, a bread much-abused in the supermarkets. I am talking about the panettone. A tall, crusty, muffin top bread with a delicate crumb, filled with delicious brandy soaked fruits and citron. It has enough of butter, eggs and sugar to actually be called a cake. But since it has firmly been categorized as bread, we can safely indulge in it for breakfast and tea without the nagging guilt.
There are so many recipes floating around–with sourdough, with yeast, by creating a sponge, by making 3 doughs. . . I decided to go with the simplest of them all. Start off easy and slowly move up the intimidation ladder. Sullivan Street Bakery had a lovely recipe ( at least the photographs looked really good) After all, Jim Lahey had simplified bread baking for me with his ‘no knead bread’. So how difficult could his Panettone be? I was already dreaming of alcohol soaked fruit with the lingering taste of orange peel. I shook my head to clear it. “Stop dreaming” I admonished myself, “And start baking!”
The fruits were soaked. I used a mix of dark and golden raisins. I suppose you could use any fruit of your choice. Better still, dip into the stock which you have soaked for your Christmas cake. I used some real vanilla which one of my wonderful friends had gifted me in return for some baked goodies. A good mix of fresh lime and orange zest and candied orange peel went in as well. I have seen people add chocolate chips, but I wanted to stay as close to the original as possible. The trick to getting a tall loaf is good gluten development and of course, the right pan. I used my stand mixer with the paddle attachment to mix the dough. For those of you who want to use your muscle power, go ahead. Be prepared for a good workout!
Usually, the panettone is baked in special moulds where the bread can rise above creating a muffin or souffle-like effect. The disposable moulds are pierced through at the bottom so that you can hang the bread upside down as it cools (almost like your angel food cakes). This is done so that the bread does not collapse under its own weight. I had no such pan. So I just used a cake tin with a removable bottom and created a parchment collar.
Naturally, I could not pierce my pan, nor did I have a mechanical device that professional Europen bakers seem to have. So A little bit of reading pointed me the way. I folded a whole bunch of towels and rested the bread on its side. My bread did not collapse, so I guess it works!
So here is a fun addition to any Christmas table. It’s not Christmas? Don’t tell you are actually willing to wait more than a month to make this?
1 cup raisins or any other dried fruit of your choice.
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons hot water
3¾ cups all-purpose flour
⅔ cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest and orange zest
½ vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise or good vanilla extract (no essence please)
3 eggs, at room temperature
⅔ cup tepid water
1 tablespoon honey
10½ tablespoons unsalted butter, well softened
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted (watch the recipe to see when this is used)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, chilled ( you will need this just before the bread is baked)
⅔ cup candied orange peel
1. In a small bottle, combine the raisins with the brandy and 2 tablespoons of hot water. Allow the fruits to soak up all the deliciousness. Give it a shake now and then to ensure that no bit of fruit feels left out. Ideally, let it get drunk overnight.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, lemon and orange zest and vanilla bean on low speed until combined. (If you are not using a stand mixer use a bowl and a wooden spoon). In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, water and honey. With the mixer on low speed, pour this mixture into the flour mixture. Increase the speed and mix until all of the ingredients are combined.
3. Now add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, making sure it is well incorporated before adding more. Increase the speed again and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic about 8 minutes.
3. Drain the raisins if there is any liquid, I had none. (Add it to the tepid water initially to make the correct measure. I would hate to throw it down the drain) and stir together with the candied peel and 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Stir this mixture into the dough with a wooden spoon.
4. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until it has nearly tripled in volume. This could take 5 hours or 15 hours depending on how cold your kitchen is. Mine was warm so I placed it in the refrigerator. Big mistake. The dough became hard as a rock and then I had to wait till it tripled at room temperature.
5. Sprinkle the dough lightly with flour and scrape out onto a lightly floured surface. It will be sticky. Fold the edges of the dough in towards the center to form a loose ball. Place this seam-side down, into the panettone mold. Cover and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until the dough is well risen.
6. Preheat oven to 185 C.
7. Place the dough-filled panettone mold on a baking sheet. Use a very sharp serrated knife or a razor blade to score an “X” across the entire surface of the dough. This is the Christmas cross. Place the 1 tablespoon chilled butter in the center of the X and bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out slightly moist but not wet, 60 to 75 minutes. The crust of the panettone will be very dark. If you find that it is getting too dark you could cover with a foil.
8. Remove from the oven. Have ready a few kitchen towels twisted into a ring. Place the pan on its side resting against the towels. Let it cool completely. Remove the parchment and cut into slices and serve. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap if you want to store it. It does tend to dry out. If it does, you have a perfect excuse to make french toast or some totally yummy bread pudding.
The crumb, in my opinion, could have been softer. Maybe I baked it a little too long or maybe the cold refrigerator did not agree with the dough. In any case, I heard no complaints from anybody. Next time I will try the 3 dough method. In the meantime, I am still trying to wipe that happy smile off my face. By the way, it is supposed to be bad luck to enjoy the top crust alone. Remember that as you try to sneak a piece!