I have loved the tradition of holiday panettone since I was a child. This delicious yeasty, slighty sweet cake was featured during our Christmas celebrations and New Years Eve parties amidst the champagne and espresso courses.
I remember my famiglia purchasing these beautiful panettone cakes from our local Italian deli, always in a box with a ribbon strap.
I loved opening that box and removing the plastic cover and asking Mammina Loreta if I could be the one who shook the bag of powdered sugar over the top before we served it. It was like sweet snowfall and I could not wait to taste a piece with my espresso and milk.
As I began cultivating my famiglia’s recipes I found that we had no recipe for this yeast cake. Mammina Loreta makes a traditional Easter bread called “la pina” that I will be sharing in April but nothing for a true panettone.
So I began the search for a traditional Italian panettone, one that was rich in flavor and texture. Many of the old authentic Italian recipes were very complicated and require a week long process of starting the yeast dough and letting it rest. I may someday take up this historic recipe challenge, but for now I wanted a more modern approach for my famiglia.
I found a panettone recipe from a collection of Martha Stewart’s holiday traditional recipes. I respect her greatly for retaining authenticity in many of her recipes and using the very best ingredients she can get so this is the one I tried.
I, of course, altered the recipe a bit to my taste but my first attempt was a wonderful success… you see, yeast and I have been enemies in the past so this was a happy day for me and my baking confidence level.
I decided to use a professional baker-approved yeast called SAF Gold yeast, a dry yeast touted for its capacity to rise evenly and create beautiful textures (using less liquid) in all baked breads and yeast cakes.
There is only a small amount of sugar in the recipe; the taste should only be slightly sweet and the addition of candied orange peel bits adds a wonderful sweet and tangy bite.
I have also modified the flavoring from the original recipe to using dark rum or good quality cognac vs. almond and orange extracts which I find too strong and artificial in flavor.
Allow yourself two or more days to make this recipe as the starter dough needs to rest overnight prior to making the completed dough.
The amount of time that is required to make this yeast cake will quickly be forgotten when you take your first and second bite.
paper baking rounds (5 1/4″ x 3 3/4″)
metal coffee can (if desired)
1/4 to 1/3 cup organic granulated sugar
1 tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsps. of SAF Gold yeast (dry)
4 large organic eggs
1/3 cup warm milk
about 3 cups unbleached flour
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted organic butter (room temperature)
1 1/2 tsps. sea salt
1/2 – 1 cup of diced candied orange peel
1 1/4 cup (5 1/2 ounces) chopped bittersweet chocolate (if desired)
1 tbsp. dark rum or cognac
vegetable oil (for the bowl)
1 large organic egg
2-3 tsps. unsweetened 60-80% good quality cocoa powder
turbinado or pearl sugar for coating
powdered sugar for dusting (if desired) when serving
In your large mixer bowl, add the warm milk and sprinkle the dry yeast over the top (do NOT mix); let this stand until foamy, approximately 5 minutes or so.
Sprinkle 2 ounces of flour (about 1/2 cup) and 1 tbsp of granulated sugar over the top. Cover with plastic and let rest for 1 hour.
Take the foamy yeast mixture bowl and add the remaining 12 ounces of flour (about 2 1/2 cups) and the remaining sugar (about 3 tablespoons or more), the beaten eggs and the salt.
Mix this well until combined and dough forms a stiff ball of dough.
Slowly (1 tablespoon at a time) add the butter and mix with each addition until well combined.
Switch to a paddle attachment and mix the dough on high speed for about 5 minutes or so until smooth. Reduce speed to low and add the rum or cognac, candied orange peel and the chopped chocolate if desired.
Mix this on medium speed until all liquid is blended and all the dough is well combined.
Turn dough out onto a clean lightly floured surface and form mixture into a ball. Transfer to an oiled large bowl, cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator overnight.
Bring dough to room temperature in the morning and divide in half. Form each half into a ball and place each dough ball into a 5 1/4″ x 3 3/4″ paper panettone mold or metal coffee can (my photos were taken when I mixed up a double batch of these lovely cakes.)
Transfer the filled molds to a large baking sheet and let stand in a warm place for about 2 hours (lightly covered) until they double in volume.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take the 1 egg and the 2-3 tbsps of cocoa powder and beat well until fully combined and no lumps appear.
Brush this glaze mixture liberally over the top of each molded dough and then sprinkle heavily with the turbinado or pearl sugar to cover the tops.
Bake until golden brown in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes or so. Remove from oven and let cool.
Once the cakes are cooled, sprinkle the top of one cake with powdered sugar (if desired) or store for future use in well-sealed plastic bags. These cakes freeze well for future use (within a month or so of baking.)
I like to store them as is and then when ready to serve cut them into slices and sprinkle powdered sugar over the sides and tops of the slices. Truly wonderful with espresso and cordials after dinner or for a sweet treat at breakfast time.
Note: Photography provided by Carina A. Favale