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.
The “Sweet” Starter
- Panettone is made with a natural yeast starter that is fed frequently and maintained at a warm temperature to render it less acidic than a typical sourdough starter.
- I start with my regular, 100%-hydration starter and convert it to a 50%-hydration (stiff) starter over a few feedings. Then I continue to feed it every four hours, for a minimum of 12 hours and up to several days.
- A proofer, a new addition to my kitchen this year, is fantastic for keeping the starter at the recommended temperature of 85F. If you don’t have one, a plastic box or bag with a frequently-replenished bowl of hot water can work.
- You don’t have to schedule middle-of-the-night feedings, 4-hour timetable notwithstanding. Just give it a larger feeding and turn the temperature down to 80F or so before putting it to bed for an 8-hour night.
- Detailed instructions for preparing the starter are below.
Other Ingredient Notes
- Osmotolerant yeast (SAF Gold) is often used in sweet breads. Sugar, which in appreciable amounts interferes with yeast fermentation, does not bother osmotolerant yeast as much. However, if you can’t get it, you can use a larger quantity of regular instant yeast.
- Diastatic malt aids fermentation by breaking down starch in flour into the kind of simple sugars that yeast can use. It is particularly useful in long-fermenting doughs like panettone.
- Candied orange and lemon peel are very easy to make, and homemade peel is less syrupy than what I have found in stores. It freezes well, too.
- I use the flour I normally use for bread.
- Use good butter; you will taste it! It must be pliable (but not melted) when it is added to the dough. I achieve this by leaving it at room temperature overnight. You could also soften it, more quickly, in a proofer set at 80F. The microwave is risky.
- The corn flour used in the glaze is very finely ground corn (finer than corn meal), not to be confused with cornstarch.
- Glaze is optional, but if you go for it, as I always do, spring for some Swedish pearl sugar (not Belgian!), which makes a beautiful finishing touch.
- Blanch whole almonds by pouring boiling water over them and letting them stand for a few minutes until they pop easily out of their skins.
- Panettone requires a very disciplined mixing technique. If you’re not willing to be patient with the mixing, don’t bother.
- Butter and sugar require strong gluten to support them. However, those thankless little ingredients also do everything they can to impede the development of that gluten, as does water. Therefore, these three things are mixed into the dough in a specific and controlled way.
- Initially, the dough is mixed using only a fraction of the water, and none of the sugar and butter. Then the sugar is added slowly, in several increments, and the dough is further mixed until the gluten is fully developed. Only then is the butter incorporated, and only after that is the remaining water added.
- This takes at least 30 minutes and on occasion has approached an hour.
- When the dough is properly mixed and the gluten fully developed, you should be able to stretch it into a very thin, very smooth, translucent “windowpane.”
- I am not kidding. Really. Seriously. Trying to hurry it along will only backfire and you’ll be mixing for three or four times as long. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Shaping and Proofing
- Paper baking molds are traditional and easy to use. They come in a variety of sizes; make sure you use enough dough for the size of the mold, or the loaves will not rise above the edge during the bake to give you that lovely, characteristic mushroom shape. I usually use 500 grams of dough in a 5 1/4-inch-diameter mold; for a 6-inch mold I would use about 700 grams (so the recipe below would make two loaves, not three).
- Because panettone needs to be hung upside-down for several hours after baking to ensure that it doesn’t collapse in on itself, I insert bamboo skewers into the paper molds before putting the dough into them. The skewers are left in for baking and provide the “hooks” for hanging.
- If mixed properly, the dough is very strong but very soft and sticky. Shaping balls and placing them into the molds is challenging. A well-buttered counter and well-buttered hands help. I use a bench scraper in one hand to tuck the edges of a dough ball under as I am rounding it. (This is difficult to explain; I’d like to make a video showing it, but that will have to wait until next year.) Use a swift, light hand when lifting the dough balls into the molds.
- A proofer is ideal not only for preparing the sweet starter but also for the final proof of the loaves, which is ideally at about 80F. Three 5 1/4-inch loaves fit comfortably in my Brod and Taylor folding proofer. Other options are an oven with the light turned on and a bowl of hot water inside, or a large plastic bag with a bowl of hot water (replenished frequently). You can also proof the loaves at room temperature, but it will take a lot longer.
- When fully proofed, the top of the dome of dough should be about even with the top of the mold. This means the dough has not reached the top of the mold at the edges, and you shouldn’t let it! Otherwise the glaze will run off the outside and it will be a big mess. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Glazing and Baking
- Glaze is optional but makes the panettone beautiful, in my opinion. If you opt not to glaze, snip a shallow X in the top just before baking, and tuck a pat of butter inside.
- The best way to evenly distribute the thick glaze is to pour it over the center of the loaf and use a pastry brush to tease it out over the surface. It will run down and pool at the edges; don’t worry about this.
- After the glaze goes on, give it a very liberal dusting of powdered sugar. It will melt almost immediately (in my photo below, you can’t see it at all), but that’s ok; it will still do its job of giving a delicate, brittle quality to the top.
- The final garnishes are Swedish pearl sugar and whole blanched almonds. Apply the pearl sugar rather densely and crowd the almonds in the center. They will spread out as the top of the loaf expands during baking.
- As mentioned above, the loaves need to be hung upside-down immediately after baking. I discovered this year that a folding laundry drying rack makes an ideal hanging apparatus. (I have actually been patting myself on the head for days over this bit of brilliance.) If you don’t have one, suspend two dowels between chair backs.
- Occasionally the top of a loaf will want to pull away and fall off while it is upside-down. Don’t ask me how I know this. If you you notice it starting to happen, you can gently place a pillow under the loaf, as I did with my middle one here.
Okay. Ready to get started?
Yield: about 1500 g (three 5 1/4-inch loaves)
Time (assumes you are starting with a mature stiff starter):
- Build the sweet starter: at least 12 hours, tended to at 4-hour intervals (see below)
- Mix and ferment first dough: 12.5 hours
- Mix final dough: 30 minutes or longer
- First fermentation of final dough: 1 to 1.5 hours, with folds every 20 – 30 minutes
- Divide, rest, and shape: 25 minutes
- Proof: 4 – 6 hours at 80F, or about 12 hours at room temperature
- Bake: about 40 minutes
- Hang/cool: several hours
Desired final dough temperature: 74F
First Dough Ingredients:
- 346 grams flour
- 190 grams water
- 1 gram (1/3 teaspoon) osmotolerant yeast, or 1.3 grams (1/2 teaspoon) instant yeast
- 83 grams sugar
- 55 grams egg yolk
- 7 grams (1.5 teaspoons) diastatic malt powder
- 83 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 86 grams sweet starter (instructions below)
Final Dough Ingredients:
- all of the first dough
- 82 grams flour
- 5 grams (7/8 teaspoon) salt
- 25 grams egg yolk
- scraped seeds from 4/5 of a vanilla bean (use the other 1/5 for the glaze)
- zest of half a medium orange
- 114 grams water, divided
- 82 grams sugar
- 126 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature (pliable)
- 19 grams honey
- 126 grams raisins
- 44 grams candied lemon peel
- 126 grams candied orange peel
Glaze Ingredients (optional; this makes enough for three loaves):
- 83 grams granulated sugar
- 4.5 grams (2 teaspoons) ground almonds (or almond flour)
- 6 grams (1.5 teaspoons) vegetable oil
- 6 grams (1 tablespoon) corn flour
- 6 grams (1 1/8 teaspoon) cocoa powder
- 30 g egg whites
- scraped seeds from 1/5 of a vanilla bean
- powdered sugar
- Swedish pearl sugar
- whole blanched almonds
- three 5-1/4-inch paper panettone molds
- six bamboo skewers
- Prepare the sweet starter over a period of one to several days. Its final feeding should be given 4 hours before mixing the first dough.
- Prepare the first dough the evening before baking: In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix all of the first dough ingredients just until combined. Cover the bowl and ferment for 12 hours at warm room temperature (about 72F), or longer for a cooler room. The dough should more than triple in volume.
- To start mixing the final dough: To the first dough in the mixer bowl, add the flour, salt, egg yolks, orange zest, vanilla seeds, and 40 grams of the water. Mix in low speed until the ingredients are just combined, about 3 minutes.
- Turn the mixer to medium speed, mix for a minute or two, then continue to mix while slowly adding the sugar, in about 5 or 6 increments. Mix for one to two minutes between additions.
- Continue to mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and the gluten is almost fully developed.
- Turn the mixer back to low speed and add the butter. Mix for a minute in low speed, then in medium speed until the butter is completely incorporated into the dough and the gluten has reached full development.
- In low speed, add the honey, and about half of the remaining water. Mix until the water is fully incorporated.
- Add the remaining water and mix until it is fully incorporated.
- In low speed, add the raisins and candied peels, mixing just until they are evenly distributed.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled container (preferably a low, wide one, to facilitate folding).
- Ferment at warm room temperature for about one hour, folding the dough after the first 30 minutes. If the dough seems very loose, fold it at 20-minute intervals instead.
- Turn the dough onto a buttered surface. Divide the dough into three pieces, and form each piece into a light ball.
- Allow the balls to rest (may be left uncovered) for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, skewer the molds.
- Shape the dough into tight balls and place into the skewered molds.
- Proof at 80F for 4 – 6 hours (or about 12 hours at room temperature), until the tops of the dough domes are even with the top of the molds and the sides are an inch or so below the tops.
- When the dough is nearly fully proofed, preheat the oven to 350F, with the rack in the lower third of the oven.
- Optional step: To mix the glaze, whisk all ingredients together. Pour, brush, or pipe the glaze evenly onto the top of the loaves. Sift powdered sugar generously over the tops, then sprinkle with pearl sugar and garnish with whole blanched almonds.
- If you leave the panettone unglazed, use scissors to snip an X into the top of the loaf and tuck a pat of butter inside.
- Place the loaves directly on the oven rack and bake for about 35 – 40 minutes, until the tops are dark brown and the internal temperature is 185F. If the tops are already quite dark after 25 – 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 325F.
- While the panettone is baking, set up your hanging apparatus (See above). When the bread is done, hang them as quickly as possible.
- Allow the panettone to hang for at least four hours, up to overnight.
- 20 grams mature stiff (50%-hydration) sourdough starter
- Mix 20 grams of stiff starter with 20 grams of flour and 20 grams of water. Ferment at 85F for 4 hours.
- Repeat feedings at 4-hour intervals, each time discarding all but 20 grams of starter, and feeding it with 20 grams of flour and 10 grams of water.
- For the nightly feeding before you go to bed, use only 10 grams of starter with the 20 of flour and 10 of water.
- Keep the feedings up for at least 12 hours, and up to several days.
- For the last feeding (4 hours before you will mix the final dough), start with 40 grams of starter and add 40 grams of flour and 20 grams of water.
- Scale out the amount of starter you need for the final dough 4 hours after the final feeding.