Panettone – Traditional Italian Christmas Bread

Fruit cakes and breads get a pretty bad rap.  Naturally, some of them really are horrible.  Dense, sodden globs of sticky bread with non-discernible fruit bits in it. Some people are wonderful at making fruit cake.  This year, try your hand at making a panettone instead of buying it from a box on the store shelf.  Be sure to follow the recipe closely, and you should be rewarded with a delicious treat!  And by the way, learn about citron here!

Panettone (Traditional Italian Christmas Bread)

 3 ¼ oz. packages dry yeast

¼ cup sugar

1/3 cup lukewarm water

6 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. grated lemon peel

½ tsp. salt

2 to 3 cups flour

8 tbsp. soft butter

1/3 cup diced candied citron

¼ cup white raisins (rinse and drain)

¼ cup dark raisins (rinse and drain)

2 tbsp. melted butter

Sprinkle the yeast and one teaspoon sugar over the lukewarm water. Let it stand two or three minutes, then stir to dissolve completely. Set the cup in a warm, draft-free place, perhaps in a turned-off oven, three to five minutes, or until yeast bubbles up and mixture doubles in volume. If the yeast does not bubble and mixture doesn’t double in volume, it means the yeast is inactive. Use another yeast. With a rubber spatula, transfer yeast mixture to a large mixing bowl. Stir in egg yolks, vanilla, lemon peel, salt, and rest of sugar. Add one and a half cups flour, a half cup at a time, stirring the mixture constantly until the dough is sticky and soft but has enough body to be gathered into a dough ball. If necessary, add a little more flour. Divide soft butter into three pieces and mix one piece at a time into the dough, which should then become heavy and stringy and fall from your hands in large blobs. Gather it together again in one mass. Add half to one cup more flour, a little at a time, mixing it in with your hands. When the dough is firm and oily, but not sticky, knead it on a floured board for about ten minutes, or until the dough is smooth and shiny and its surface is blistered. Then shape into a ball. Place the ball in a large, clean bowl and sprinkle the top with a little flour. Cover the bowl with a plate or pot lid and set it in a warm, draft-free spot. In 30 to 45 minutes the dough should rise to double its bulk. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Punch the dough down and gently knead in the citron and raisins. Handle the dough as little as possible after you have added the citron and raisins or it will discolor. Shape the dough in ball, place on a buttered baking sheet and cut a cross on top of the ball. Generously butter one side of a strip of heavy brown paper about 25” x 5”. Wrap ball of dough loosely in paper, buttered side in, so that the paper surrounds the dough in the pan like a collar. The collar should measure 6” to 8” across. Fasten the ends of the paper in place around the dough with string, a pin, or a paper clip and set the wrapped dough in a warm place to rise again. When the dough has again doubled in bulk (after about 15 minutes), brush top of it with some of the melted butter and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for ten minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, brush the top of the Panettone with more melted butter and bake 30 to 40 minutes longer. When done, the top should be crisp and golden brown. Brush with melted butter again about 15 to 20 minutes after baking process begins.

When Panettone is done, cool it on a wire cake rack. Remove paper when the cake is cool enough to handle. Now you’re ready to grace your table with this wonderful bread just as the Italians traditionally do every Christmas Eve.

Panettone makes amazing french toast or bread pudding when it gets too stale to enjoy. So make some to let it go stale!

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