I started making panettone at Christmastime in 2006. Over these few years, I have tried variations on the recipe (here’s a chocolate one, and here’s one studded with bits of chocolate and ginger), but this is the one I keep coming back to. I still hold my breath each time I make it, because it’s fussy and needs to be pampered. But given patience, discipline, and a loving hand, it does not disappoint. Light and buttery, citrus-y sweet and holiday-special, its baking is a ritual that comforts and satisfies me. Sharing it with my family, and with you, makes me unreasonably happy.
I first posted this panettone in 2007, and the recipe hasn’t changed. But I have accumulated a few refinements and lessons learned, so I thought it was time, once again, to tell you everything I know about making panettone.
Well, I’m a day (or two) late and a stencil short, but my Rewena Paroa, a traditional Maori bread made with a fermented potato starter — and Lien’s choice for the Bread Baking Babes this month — is finally out of the oven.
Being a New Zealand bread, the decoration should depict a silver leaf fern, and I tried, I really tried, to craft one even half as lovely as Lien’s intricate example. My scissors had other ideas, though, and it was just not happening, so I resorted to the garden. I have no ferns, so I made do with a vine I’m embarrassed to say I don’t even know the name of. Flattened between the pages of a heavy book for a couple of hours, it served as a decent stencil, if you forget that it’s supposed to be a fern.
This is a really wonderful loaf, with the softness and red-golden color typical of potato-enriched breads. My dough seemed a bit sluggish so I gave it a longer bulk fermentation and one more fold than the recipe called for, and it paid off with a beautiful open crumb.
Corn has a bad reputation lately. As a major component of America’s industrial food system, corn represents cropland abuse, genetic modification, cattle sickened on a grain diet, children sickened on a corn-fed-beef-burger and high-fructose-corn-syrup diet, a wacky government subsidy system. All too true.
But of course the blame for these ills lies with the humans that produce and consume big-business corn (and that would be most of us, by the way; if you ever eat prepared food, chances are there’s corn in there somewhere). Blaming corn is like blaming water for acid rain.
As a grain and a vegetable in and of itself, unrefined, unengineered, and responsibly grown, corn is pretty upstanding. Sure, you’d be in trouble if it were all you ate. But it’s a decent source of fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin C. Native American cultures were and are sustained by it. My childhood summers would not have been the same without it. Neither would chili and guacamole.
So, in defense and celebration of this innocent, nutritious, and tasty food that is the theme of this month’s BreadBakingDay (hosted by Heather and Zorra), I wanted to bake something that not only comprised corn but announced loudly, I’m corn. You got a problem with that? Bite me!
Would you put a basket of golden corn ears on your breakfast table, warm and ready for a drizzle of honey? (Many thanks to my friend Elra for this jar of wonderful local wildflower honey.)
As with the lemon that studs them, these loaves are one of those breads I thought would be one thing, but of its own accord (with maybe a little bit of gentle and experimental nudging from me) it turned out to be another thing. Sometimes it’s fun to just let things unfold and see where you end up.
The thing I thought it would be was gibassier, a French olive oil brioche traditional during the Advent season, scented with oranges and anise seed, shaped in flat round loaves. It is an amazingly good bread, and ranks among favorite sweet breads for nearly everyone I know who has tasted it.
But thanks to my generous crop of lemons just now, my bread asked for candied lemon peel rather than orange. Because I had lots of lemon syrup as a byproduct of the candying of the lemon peels — and also because I was out of orange blossom water — the bread wanted the syrup to stand in for both the sugar and the orange water in a traditional gibassier recipe. Because I love putting candied ginger in things, this bread begged to be loved that way too. And the shaping was just me playing around to see what showed up, and perhaps longing for the December snow(flakes) I used to know in Vermont but rarely see anymore.
The result turned out to be something slightly less sweet and less citrus-y than gibassier, and a fine way to enjoy a delicately-flavored sweet bread with your morning coffee or tea. The ginger is very subtle, and I might add more next time.
Have I mentioned that I love brioche? OK, so it’s rich and sweet and buttery and I don’t recommend eating it every day. On the other hand, it is rich and sweet and buttery. And it’s easy to make it even better with the addition of things like frangipane, which is… rich and sweet and buttery and almondy. (See? Even better.)
Frangipane is essentially a baked almond pastry cream. In school we learned to make it by combining vanilla pastry cream, a cooked custard that can be used without further baking, with almond cream, which is not pre-cooked and lends a lighter, cake-like texture. There are plenty of other frangipane recipes out there if you don’t want to use this two-part process, but the pastry cream and almond cream can also be used on their own, so they’re nice recipes to have, and you can vary the proportions of each depending on the texture you want your frangipane to have (more almond cream for a puffier frangipane). Zoe Bakes has a great photo tutorial on making pastry cream.
I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but around here it’s getting pretty warm, and that means grilling. And that means you’ll be needing some buns.
I already have a great bun recipe, but I wanted some that are sourdough-leavened (since my starter has been feeling a bit neglected lately) and that contain a hefty portion (about 84%) of whole wheat. These were an experiment that turned out rather well. They are definitely soft (from the honey and the butter), but a bit denser — and more flavorful, if you ask me — than your average hamburger bun.
In case your grill is still buried under a foot of snow (I’m so sorry!), the buns are good for sloppy joes, too.