Let’s begin with the name: is it “pandoro” or “pan d’oro?” In The Italian Baker, Carol Field writes, “Although the name suggests pan d’oro (golden bread), pandoro is actually a dialect word for a Veronese dessert made more than two centuries ago.”
My own choice of appellation owes more to laziness than a commitment to historical accuracy. “Pandoro” is easier to type, and doesn’t require me to constantly edit after I’ve hit the semicolon key instead of the apostrophe. Let;s face it, I;m a slacker.
Whatever you call it, though, “golden bread” is definitely an apt description for this sweet, egg-and-butter-rich Italian holiday bread.
We made pandoro in class — sort of. Our instructor demonstrated the mixing process, we shaped the loaves and left them to proof overnight, and she baked them early the next morning. By the time I realized I needed to grab some while the grabbing was good, it wasn’t. So I was pretty much left with no choice but to make some for myself.
Like its cousin panettone, pandoro is an involved bread. It requires a carefully-planned schedule, some ingredients and equipment you might not have on hand (but are readily available), and close attention during the final mixing process. That said, I would not discourage beginning bakers from attempting this. If you can follow directions and are in possession of a vigorous sourdough starter, you’re 90% there! I’d say if you have the fortitude to read this very hefty post, you have the fortitude to make pandoro.
Also like panettone, pandoro uses a sweet starter, which is developed from a “regular” sourdough starter over a period of at least two days. It must be kept in a warm place — 85F is ideal. I kept mine in the microwave with a bowl of hot water at home, and in the proofer (about 81F) at SFBI when I was there. It needs to be fed every four hours, so plan accordingly. You can sacrifice one feeding a day in the interest of a good night’s sleep; just don’t keep it quite so toasty for those eight hours. (I left mine overnight in the microwave without the hot water.) Use the starter in the first dough (see the recipe below) at the point in its routine when you would normally be feeding it (i.e., four hours after the last feeding). Instructions for building a sweet starter follow the pandoro recipe below.
Pandoro is traditionally made in star-shaped molds. My Portuguese tin molds (left photo) are available through a number of internet sources. I like the Italian ones a bit better — they are heavier, taller, and the pleats are shallower — but I don’t know where to get them. Anyone with a hot tip about this will win the magic prize. But even if you don’t have pandoro pans, I wouldn’t be afraid to try any pans with tall sides, such as Bundt or angel food pans. Paper panettone molds would also work. The 500-gram loaf size and 35-minute bake times are right for a 2-quart pandoro pan.
Pandoro is rich with butter, sugar, and egg, which are natural enemies of gluten. In the mixing of the final dough, they must be added at the right time in order to mediate a peaceful settlement and coax the gluten into building the strength needed to carry all that richness.
The dough starts out quite firm, but don’t worry, it will loosen up as you add the eggs and the sugar. Just make sure you do so slowly — too fast and you’ll wind up with a soupy mess. If you do add things too fast, just keep on mixing and it will probably eventually come together, but plan on being an hour or so late for dinner. The butter is not added until the very end, once the gluten is completely developed. It took me about half an hour to mix my final dough.
Count on the final proof also taking a very very long time. The original recipe calls for a proofing time of about 14 hours at 72F. However, whose kitchen is 72 degrees in wintertime, especially overnight? Colder kitchen, longer proof.
When fully proofed, the tops of the dough domes should be about level with the tops of the pans. You can see that mine weren’t. At 7 p.m., I started the loaves proofing in a large sealed plastic bag. When I got up at 6 the next morning, they had clearly moved, even in the 58-degree indoor overnight weather, but little enough that I knew they would not be close to ready by 9. I added a bowl of warm water to the bag. At 11 a.m. (we’re at 16 hours now) I put them in the oven on its 85-degree proof setting. By 1 p.m. (18 hours), they were still not there, but since I occasionally have a life outside of the kitchen, I needed to bake them anyway. Happily, they popped up quite nicely in the oven and when I cut into the cooled pandoro, the interior was feather-light, as it should be.
The pandoro should be removed from the pan while it is still warm, about 30 minutes out of the oven. The loaves are inverted so their domed tops squish down (yes, this is okay!) to become flat bottoms.
Finally, a few notes about some of the ingredients:
Cocoa butter: As I understand it, the purpose of this is to add some holes to the otherwise very regular crumb. Cocoa butter has a high melting point; pieces of it will not melt and incorporate into the dough during mixing and proofing. If you don’t have any, you can omit it altogether or use white chocolate. I found pure cocoa butter in the cosmetics section of Whole Foods; the label specifically said it was safe to eat. [Update: food-grade cocoa butter is also available online.]
Yeast: Osmotolerant dry yeast (SAF Gold) is a special strain of yeast that is not as bothered by sugar as regular yeast is. (In small amounts, sugar speeds up yeast activity, but impedes it in the high quantities we have here.) If you just can’t get osmotolerant yeast, try using regular instant yeast and increase the amount by about 30%.
Eggs: You will need a total of about five eggs along the way — first, second, third, and final doughs — but until you get to the final dough, the quantities are very small (less than one egg’s worth). I recommend beating the five together and storing them in the refrigerator, scaling out what you need from this reservoir at each step.
(Adapted from SFBI)
Yield: 1000 g (2 loaves)
- Develop the sweet starter (assuming you start with a healthy sourdough starter): every 4 hours for 2 days, at 85F
- Mix and ferment first and second doughs (approximately simultaneously): 2 hours at 85F
- Mix and ferment third dough: 3 hours at 85F
- Mix final dough: 30 minutes or more
- Ferment final dough: 2 hours
- Proof in pans: 14 – 18 hours or more (see above notes) at room temperature
- Bake: 35 minutes
First Dough Ingredients:
- 66 g flour
- 33 g water
- 27 g egg
- 17 g sugar
- 96 g sweet starter (instructions follow), 4 hours after last feeding
Second Dough Ingredients:
- 41 g flour
- 0.8 g (1/4 t.) osmotolerant yeast (see note above)
- 27 g egg
- 8 g sugar
Third Dough Ingredients:
- 60 g flour
- 26 g egg
- 12 g sugar
- 3 g butter, softened
- all of the first dough
- all of the second dough
Final Dough Ingredients:
- 166 g butter, softened to pliability (not melted)
- 10 g cocoa butter, finely chopped (see note above)
- seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
- 219 g flour
- 5.3 g (7/8 t.) salt
- 10 g honey
- all of the third dough
- 166 g egg
- 106 g sugar
- melted butter, for brushing the pans
- powdered sugar for topping
- Mix all of the first dough ingredients together with your hand until they are evenly incorporated. Use a dough scraper to salvage excess dough left on your hand. Cover the dough and ferment in a warm place (about 85F) for two hours.
- Meanwhile, mix the second dough in the same manner and ferment it for 1.5 hours at 85F. Time things so the first and second doughs finish fermenting at the same time.
- When the first and second doughs are ready, mix the third dough, again by hand just until the ingredients are incorporated. Ferment it for 3 hours at 85F.
- Before mixing the final dough, beat the butter with the vanilla seeds in a stand mixer with a paddle until it is light. Add the chopped cocoa butter and stir it in briefly.
- In a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine the final dough flour, salt, honey, third dough, and half the egg. Mix on slow speed until the ingredients are incorporated, about 4 or 5 minutes. The dough will be stiff.
- Add a third of the sugar and continue mixing on slow speed until it is incorporated into the dough.
- Turn the mixer to medium speed and continue mixing for a few minutes to start to develop the gluten.
- Add about 1/4 of the remaining egg. Continue mixing in medium speed until it is completely mixed into the dough and a minute or so longer.
- Add about 1/4 of the remaining sugar and continue mixing until fully incorporated and another minute longer.
- Repeat the above two steps until all of the egg and sugar have been added.
- Continue mixing in medium speed until gluten has reached full development.
- Turn the mixer back to low speed and add the prepared butter mixture all at once. Continue on low speed until the butter is completely mixed into the dough and you can see the dough pulling away from the bottom of the bowl.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly buttered container. Cover and ferment for 2 hours, with a fold after the first hour.
- Meanwhile, brush your pans well with melted butter. Make sure you cover all the nooks and crannies of the pans.
- Turn the fermented dough onto a lightly buttered counter. Divide it into two pieces of 500 g each.
- Shape the dough into tight balls and place them, seam-side-down, into the buttered pans.
- Proof, covered, for 14 – 18 hours or more (see notes above), until the top of the dough dome is at the level of the top of the pan.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325F on convection setting or 350F on regular bake. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.
- Bake for 5 minutes with steam, and another 30 minutes or so without steam. The loaves should be a rich golden brown and their internal temperature should be 185F.
- Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then invert on a wire rack and cool completely.
- Sift powdered sugar on the tops of the loaves before serving.
Note: These instructions assume you are starting with a vigorous “regular” sourdough starter. If you don’t have a starter yet, here’s how to start one.
- If you are starting with a stiff (50%-hydration) starter, skip to step 2. If starting with a liquid (100%-hydration) starter, convert it to 50% by combining 40 g starter with 20 g flour. Ferment for 4 hours at 85F.
- For each subsequent feeding (except the final one), discard all but 28 g starter, and add 20 g flour and 10 g water. Ferment for 4 hours at 85F. Repeat for about 2 days.
- For the final feeding (4 hours before you will use it in the first dough), combine 56 g starter, 40 g flour, and 20 g water. Ferment at 85F. You will need 96 g for the first dough.