Christmas time is here...and that means a tall, fluffy slice of an Italian Christmas bread called panettone. You'll be wanting more than one slice of this amazing cake-like dessert! Although panettone can be tricky, you should be able to make a perfect loaf on your first try with all the tips and info I'm sharing in this post.
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What is panettone? Is it bread or cake?
Panetttone is a sweet yeast bread speckled with dried fruit and candied citrus peel, traditionally served at Christmas. It has a similar texture to cake, but is definitely a bread.
Where does it come from?
This Christmas bread originates in Milan, Italy, and has roots in sweet breads made in the Roman Empire. It was first produced commercially in the early 1900s, and in the late 1940s, became a worldwide Christmas favorite. Nowadays, it is available in many variations, such as chocolate.
How to Pronounce Panettone
It's an Italian name, so keep that in mind. Say it as pan-ah-TONE-ee.
Why do you cool it upside down?
Cooling this bread upside down sounds unusual, but it actually is an important step. If it is cooled right side up, the heavy weight of the bread may cause it to collapse or become very dense. Cooling the bread upside down encourages it to stay tall and fluffy.
How do you eat it?
- Warm it in a 200 F for 10-20 minutes.
- Slice in thin wedges.
- Serve with coffee at breakfast, tea in the afternoon, or milk.
- Use in other desserts, like bread pudding, French toast, or trifle.
Why did my panettone not turn out?
Panettone can be challenging to make, so don't feel discouraged if it didn't turn out as you expected. Here are some actionable ways you can help ensure an awesome batch on your first try.
- Why is it dense? The most common reason for a dense result is that it didn't rise (also called "prove") long enough. When you're letting the loaves prove in the pans, make sure that the top of the dough is above the edge of the tin before baking. Make sure to cool it upside down to prevent it from sinking down as it cools.
- Why didn't it rise? The yeast may have been old. Also, make sure not to let the salt touch the yeast directly, or it will kill the yeast. In addition, let the dough rise in a warm environment to speed up the proving. Cold temps will drastically slow down the rise.
- Why is it dry? Not adding enough liquid or adding too much flour during the kneading process will make the dough dry. Also, overbaking the bread will dry it out. Bake until it has an internal temperature of 190 F on a meat thermometer.
How long will it keep?
Homemade panettone will keep at room temperature for 1 week, but tastes the freshest within the first 24 hours of baking. Do not refrigerate the bread, or it will go stale quickly. For longer storage, follow the freezing instructions below.
Can panettone be frozen?
Yes, you can freeze it. Make sure that it is fully cool before freezing it.
- Want to freeze a whole loaf? Wrap the cooled loaf tightly in two layers of plastic wrap, then one layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 3 months.
- Want to freeze slices? Seal them in a zip-top freezer bag, squeezing the extra air from the bag. Freeze for up to 1 month.
- Defrost at room temperature or in the toaster. Do not refrigerate the bread, as that makes it stale quickly.
Can you toast it?
Yes! Toasting it adds so much flavor. Simply pop the slices in your toaster or under the broiler until toasted to your liking.
How to Make
Start by grabbing some dried fruit. You'll need candied lemon and orange peel, citron, raisins, currants, red and green glace cherries, lemon zest, and orange juice.
Stir together all of these ingredients in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature overnight. The fruit will absorb most of the orange juice, softening it and making it extra juicy and flavorful.
Meanwhile, gather the ingredients. You'll need bread flour, salt, yeast, sugar, eggs, butter, milk, vanilla extract, and a few blanched almonds.
Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the milk and heat until it's warm, about 115 F on a thermometer.
While the milk is heating, pour the flour into a mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl. This ensures that the salt won't touch the yeast directly, as that can kill the yeast. Mix each one in with your finger.
Mix the sugar into the flour mixture, then add the vanilla and eggs.
Gradually add the butter and milk mixture, mixing as you go, until all the flour is picked up from the bowl and a slightly sticky dough has formed.
Knead on a lightly floured surface for 10-15 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy. You should be able to stretch a piece thin enough to read through. Kneading until it reaches this stage is crucial to getting a high-rising, fluffy result.
Shape the dough into a ball and place in a buttered bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. It will prove even in the fridge, rising to almost twice its original size. Even though a cold prove is slower, it produces a better flavor.
The next day, put the bowl in a cold oven, and place a dish of boiling water on the shelf below, creating a warm, steamy environment. Leave the dough in this setup for 1 ½ hours to warm it up and soften it.
Meanwhile, dump the soaked fruit into a strainer set over a bowl. This will drain off extra moisture from the fruit.
Butter two 6-inch pans and line them with parchment paper. You'll have a higher-rising panettone with an extra deep pan, like the black one in the photo below, which is 6 inches deep. Alternatively, use a 3-inch deep cake pan and let the parchment paper stick up to make up for the shorter sides.
Once the dough has warmed up in the steamy oven, knead the drained fruit mixture into it. You can do this with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand. Divide it in half, roll into a ball, and place each loaf in one of the prepared pans.
Let the loaves rise in the steamy oven until the top rises above the top of the pans. Arrange 5 blanched almonds in a star pattern on top of each loaf.
Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes, then 375 F for 10 minutes, then finally at 350 F for 10-15 minutes. The bread is cooked when it has an internal temperature of 190 F on a meat thermometer. Cover the panettone with foil once it is nicely browned.
Remove the loaves from the pans and skewer the loaves about 2 inches from the base. Flip them upside down and hang them above a pot or mixing bowl to cool completely, about 1 ½ to 2 hours. This is a crucial step, as hanging the loaves upside down will prevent them from collapsing.
Once the loaves are cool, remove the skewers, dust with icing sugar if desired, slice in wedges, and enjoy. Congratulations on making an amazing loaf of panettone!
- Start the panettone the day before. That way, the fruit can soak and the dough can rise for longer, giving you a tastier result.
- Use bread flour, not all-purpose. All-purpose flour lacks the protein content necessary to create a high rise and fluffy texture.
- Knead thoroughly. This is a crucial step! Stretch, fold, and slap the dough until you can stretch a lump of it thin enough to read through it.
- Create a warm environment for the rising by placing a casserole dish filled with boiling water on the bottom shelf of a cold oven. Place the dough on the shelf above the pan and shut the oven door.
- Hang the panettone upside down to cool. This important step will keep it from collapsing or getting dense as it cools.
- Kitchen Scale: using a digital scale is the fastest and easiest way to measure ingredients accurately.
- Panettone Pan: this deep pan is will help your bread rise high and beautiful.
- Mesh Strainers: drain your soaked fruit and effortlessly sift icing sugar with these great sieves.
- Metal Skewers: these sturdy skewers won't bend or snap, supporting your loaf as it cools.
- Diced Citron Peel: this already diced peel is a wonderful addition to your homemade panettone.
Other Christmas Breads
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Classic Panettone Recipe
For the Fruit Mixture
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup currants
- ½ cup candied citrus peel, finely diced
- ¼ cup glace cherries, cut in quarters
- ¼ cup citron peel, diced
- ⅔ cup orange juice
Soaking the Dried Fruit (15 min + overnight soaking)
- Toss all the dried fruit and the orange juice into a mixing bowl and mix until well combined. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and let the fruit stand at room temperature overnight, stirring occasionally.
Making the Dough (35 min + overnight proving)
- Melt the unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then pour in the milk and heat to 115 F on a meat thermometer. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Pour the bread flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl. Stir each one into the flour with your finger. Mix in the sugar.
- Dump in the eggs and vanilla extract, then gradually add the milk and butter mixture, mixing constantly, to form a slightly sticky dough. Keep mixing to make sure that all the flour has been picked up from the bowl.
- Knead on a floured surface for 10-15 minutes. It's done when it passes the windowpane test. Break off a lump and stretch it as thin as you can. If you can read through the stretched dough without it tearing, it's good. If not, knead for a minute longer and check again.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place in a buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge to prove overnight, or at least 8 hours. It should almost double in size during this time.
Shaping & Baking the Panettone (35 min + 3 hrs proving + 30 min baking)
- Place the bowl of risen dough on the middle shelf of a cold oven. Place a casserole dish full of boiling water on the shelf underneath to create a warm, moist environment. Shut the oven door and let it prove for 1 ½ hours to warm it up and soften it.
- You'll need two 6-inch springform cake pans that are at least 3 inches deep. You'll get a higher-rising loaf if you use a special panettone pan with 6-inch tall sides. Grease the pans lightly with butter. If you're using a shorter pan, line with parchment paper, and let the paper stick a few inches above the sides of the pan.
- Stir the soaked fruit mixture, then dump it into a large mesh sieve set over a bowl. Any excess liquid will drain into the bowl.
- Punch down the dough, then divide it in half. Place one half in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add half of the dried fruit mixture, mixing on low speed until the fruit is evenly distributed. Repeat with the other half of the ingredients. (Feel free to do this step by hand if you don't have a stand mixer.)
- Shape each piece of fruited dough into a ball and place in the prepared pans. Cover with plastic wrap and prove in the steamy oven until the top is level with the top of the tin. This will take about 1 ½ hours.
- About 10 minutes before the loaves are done proving, take them out of the oven and preheat it to 400 F.
- Press 5 blanched almonds in a star shape onto the top of each panettone. Bake the loaves at 400 F for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 F and bake for another 10 minutes. Lower the temperature again to 350 F and bake for 10-15 minutes. Cover the tops with foil if it is getting too dark.
- Unclip the sides of the springform pans and remove the loaves from the pan. About 2 inches from the bottom of the loaves, poke three long skewers all the way through the loaf. Flip the loaf upside down and hang them over a large pot or mixing bowl. Repeat with the other loaf, then let the bread cool upside down for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
- Remove the skewers, sprinkle with sifted icing sugar, cut in wedges, and serve with generous amounts of salted butter. Leftovers can be frozen for up to 3 months and defrosted at room temperature.
- Start the dough the day before to give the fruit extra time to soak and the dough to rise.
- Always use bread flour; all-purpose will not give you the best rise or texture.
- Knead thoroughly until the dough passes the windowpane test, as described in the instructions above.
- Dough rising slowly? Put the dough in a cold oven with a pan of boiling water on the shelf beneath.
- Let the panettone cool upside down. This prevents it from collapsing.