Christmas. Maybe the most stressful time of the year is just before it. Deadlines at work, kids needing to be spoiled, families expecting Lucullian feasts. And us? The mothers, wives, and hosts, what do we want for Christmas?
This year, what I really wanted and had in my mind constantly was to make my own panettone. But, oh boy, baking a panettone in the heat of the pre-Christmas collective hysteria? That was the biggest challenge ever. Panettone takes indeed two days of patient care and there is no way around it. My previous quicker attempts with alternative methods were in fact a true disappointment. Only when I resolved to go the hard way, with the quintessential traditional recipe, the miracle happened and panettone manifested itself in my kitchen. Happy also to participate with this to the December’s challenge of the Daring Bakers hosted by Marcellina from Marcellina in Cucina and dedicated to panettone.
The recipe I used is possibly the most popular one in Italy when it comes to home-made panettone and was passed to us mortals by the holy Simili sisters (sorelle Simili for us Italians), founders of a culinary school, who wrote the slim but concentrated baking bible Pane e Roba Dolce. Their panettone is based on natural leaven, pasta madre, which is the traditional stiff sourdough Italian bakers generally use (SCROLL DOWN FOR THE RECIPE). *NOTA PER I LETTORI ITALIANI: la ricetta completa (trascritta parola per parola dal libro delle Simili, ma sara’ legale?) la trovate qui.
PANETTONE WITH PASTA MADRE FROM SIMILI SISTERS
I followed the traditional recipe, only added grated zests and chocolate and omitted raisins and candied citrus. Also, I converted my 100% hydration starter into pasta madre (which is, a 50% hydration sourdough starter) but did not do the steps to “fortify” pasta madre as suggested by the Simili sisters. I trusted the power of my starter. If you have a lively starter, after converting it into a stiff one, follow all the steps below and in two days you will have good as hell traditional panettone.
First Dough (to make at the end of Day 1)
225 gr “sweet” pasta madre***
550 gr bread flour
130 gr sugar
140 gr butter
250 gr luke-warm water
6 egg yolks
Final Dough (to make at the beginning of Day 2)
270 bread flour
140 gr butter
80 gr luke-warm water
25 gr powdered milk
50 gr sugar
grated zest of 2 organic lemons and 1 organic orange (my addition)
200 g 70% dark chocolate, chopped (my addition)
125 gr candied orange peel in small cubes
125 gr candied citrus peel in small cubes (I omitted it this time)
350 gr raisins (I omitted them this time)
10 gr salt (2 tea-spoon)
10 gr honey (1 tea-spoon)
10 gr barley malt (1 tea-spoon)
1 vanilla pod, opened lengthwise and paste taken out with a knife
3 panettone molds (each for 750 gr panettone)
6 long skewers
***Sweet Pasta Madre
pasta madre (do this 2-3 days before making the panettone dough): convert your 100% hydration sourdough starter into a 50% hydration starter by taking 50 g of your regular 100% sourdough starter straight from the fridge and combine with 50 g water and 100 g flour. Perform 3-4 feeding like this (possibly even more), one every 12 hours. You will end up with a stiff sourdough, pasta madre (literally “mother dough”) that you have to shortly knead, then form into a ball and score with a cross on top.
sweet pasta madre (to be done during Day 1): once you have your stiff leaven, proceed to make it “sweet” (in the sense of less sour) enough for panettone. Make three feedings within 12-15 hours by keeping the pasta madre in a warm spot (the oven with the light on works), at about 26 degrees (Celsius, 78.8 Fahrenheit), and feeding it every 3-4 hours. The Simili sisters suggest:
1st feeding (morning) 50 g pasta madre, 50 g water and 100 g flour
2nd feeding (lunch time) 100 g pasta madre, 50 g water, 100 g flour
3rd feeding (late afternoon) 100 g pasta madre, 50 g water, 100 g flour
evening of Day 1: put the egg yolks in the water and whisk a little. Add the flour and the sugar and start kneading (at low speed if with a machine). Then add the pasta madre in pieces, little by little. At last add the butter, in pieces, in three times. My tip: overall you need to knead for about 15 minutes by machine (and 25 minutes by hand). Careful not to over-knead the dough, it should not be shiny. Place the dough in a tall bowl coated with a little butter, and let it rise at 28 degrees (Celsius, 82.4 Fahrenheit) for the first 2 hours, then at room temperature for 8-10 hours (depending on how warm you have it). The dough should increase 3-4 times in volume.
morning of Day 2: combine the water, the powdered milk, the sugar, the egg yolks, the honey, the malt, the salt, the vanilla paste and the grated zests. Add the flour and start kneading and then add also all the first dough. When all is well combined, add the butter, little by little. Knead for no more than 15 minutes by machine at low speed (25 minutes by hand). Incorporate the filling (in my case, chocolate and orange peel) at the end of the kneading. Coat a tray with butter and shape the dough in three balls weighting about 800 g each. Place them in a warm spot, about 28 degrees (Celsius, 82.4 Fahrenheit) for 20 minutes, covered. Shape again in 3 tight balls with hands coated with butter and place in 3 750 g each panettone molds. Make sure to place the molds on a oven tray BEFORE placing the dough in them. You won’t be able to move them individually but you will be allowed to move only the tray. Let rise at about 28 degrees (Celsius, 82.4 Fahrenheit) until the dough reaches the edges of the molds. To me this took 5 and 1/2 hours.
afternoon of Day 2: score a cross on top of each panettone (with a light hand) and slightly pull up the edges. Bake at 175 degrees (Celsius, 347 Fahrenheit) for about 35-40 minutes. The Simili suggest 25-30 minutes but my panettone were ready after 40 minutes. Best is to check the internal temperature, which should be around 95 degrees (Celsius, 203 Fahrenheit). Once the panettone is baked, put 2 skewers in the bottom part of the panettone and keep the panettone hanging upside down (see the picture) until cool.
cooling down – upside down
here’s the baby. sorry but the first slices moved too fast for my camera to catch
CONSIDERATIONS: this was, without a doubt, the most challenging bake I have ever made. To create a dough able to rise 6, 7 times in volume using only natural leaven sounded actually impossible to me and I did not believe it until I saw it. Knowing that anything wrong in the formula, or in the way I kneaded the dough, or in the temperature, could have stopped the miracle, made me so nervous that I could hardly notice it was just around Christmas and I had a big dinner to prepare, presents to wrap, an so on. I lived for my panettone dough for two days and when, finally allowed to flip the finished product and cut a slice, I realized it actually tasted like panettone – not sour at all, just heavenly light and delicately sweet – I entered at once into the Christmas mood. Uplifted, just like the dough. Too bad I could not take plenty of pictures. The first panettone was in fact already half devoured when the morning came, and the other cakes could not be opened… one was indeed saved for our Lucullian Christmas dinner and the other will fly to Italy with my mother tomorrow morning (I know, I am a good kid). So just trust me. This recipe rocks. Next year you may get better pictures of the outcome. Until then, hope you had a great time (as we did) and that this recipe will one day uplift you, too, and help in making your festivities unforgettable.
CONSIDERAZIONI: Finalmente mi sono decisa ad usare la ricetta delle Simili e vi assicuro che non la lascero’ piu’. Il secondo panettone, aperto ieri sera per i nostri ospiti, era assolutamente favoloso. Mi dispiace non aver potuto fare molte foto, con tutte le celebrazioni di questi giorni non ce ne e’ davvero stata l’occasione. Un grazie vivissimo alle grandissime Simili, che hanno contribuito a rendere questo Natale veramente speciale.
This bread goes to Susan
the lovely Scandinavian vintage napkin is from Stockholm Retro