Traditional recipes

What is Panettone?

What is Panettone?

This sweet bread loaf is a popular Italian Christmas treat

Wikimedia Commons

Panettone is a light, eggy sweet bread enjoyed at Christmastime.

Come Christmastime, an increasing number of supermarkets and specialty shops around the world are stocking what’s called panettone, and even though its origins are in Italy, it just might become your new favorite Christmas dinner tradition.

Panettone (which translates roughly to “large loaf cake”) has its origins in the ancient Roman Empire, but today it’s largely recognized as a Milanese specialty. In 1919, renowned baker Angelo Motta created and began to market the panettone as we now know it, and largely due to his efforts it’s enjoyed around the world today.

But what is a panettone, exactly? It starts with a very eggy, sweet dough, similar to brioche, that’s studded with raisins,candied orange, citron, and lemon zest. It’s allowed to rise three times for a total of nearly 20 hours, giving it a supremely light, fluffy texture.

To serve, it’s typically cut into wedges, and eaten with crema di mascarpone (a combination of mascarpone, eggs, candied fruit, and sweet liqueur) or zabaglione (a light custard made with egg yolks, sugar, and sweet wine). A nice glass of Moscato d’Asti on the side doesn’t hurt, either.


Recipe Summary

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (two 1/4-ounce envelopes)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk, warmed
  • 3 cups unbleached bread flour, plus more for surface
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten, plus 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure orange extract
  • 1 cup diced candied (glazed) orange peel
  • 1 1/4 cups golden raisins
  • Vegetable oil, for bowl
  • Pearl sugar, for sprinkling, optional
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, for sprinkling

Sprinkle yeast over milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough-hook attachment. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle 2 ounces flour (about 1/2 cup) and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar over top. Cover with plastic, and let stand for 1 hour.

Add remaining 12 ounces flour and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, the beaten eggs, and the salt. Mix together on medium speed until dough forms a smooth, stiff ball, about 5 minutes. Add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix dough on medium-high speed for 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and add extracts, orange peel, and raisins. Mix until combined.

Turn out dough onto a clean surface, and form into a ball. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic, and refrigerate overnight.

Bring dough to room temperature, and divide in half. Form each half into a ball place each in a 5 1/4-by-3 3/4-inch paper panettone mold or a small brown paper bag that has been rolled down to about 5 inches. Transfer to a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly beat remaining egg. Brush egg wash onto panettone dough, and sprinkle with pearl sugar and almonds. Bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes.

Remove molds from oven, and run two wooden skewers horizontally through the center of each panettone loaf. Hang loaves upside down by propping ends of each skewer on 2 large heavy canisters or cans. Let cool completely.


Gallery

  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup bread flour
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and softened
  • 1 cup roasted and skinned hazelnuts, chopped (see Note)
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate chunks (1 cup)
  • Two 6-inch paper panettone molds (see Note)
  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash
  • Pearl sugar, for sprinkling

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the water with the yeast until dissolved. Add the ½ cup of bread flour and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until the dough comes together. Cover the bowl with plastic and let rest at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 4 hours.

Attach the paddle to the stand mixer. Add the bread flour, water, sugar, and egg yolks to the bowl of the stand mixer with the biga in it. Beat on low speed until just combined, about 2 minutes. Mix on medium-high speed until the dough balls up around the paddle and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 8 minutes. Switch to the dough hook and, with the mixer on low speed, gradually add the butter one tablespoon at a time until incorporated and the dough is smooth and shiny, about 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic and let rest at room temperature for 12 hours or overnight.

Add the bread flour and sugar to the bowl of the stand mixer. Attach the dough hook and beat on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low, gradually add the egg yolks and then the vanilla paste until the dough is smooth and elastic again, about 5 minutes more. Add the salt and beat for 2 minutes. With the mixer on low, gradually add the butter one tablespoon at a time until incorporated and the dough is shiny and very supple, about 5 minutes more. Beat in the hazelnuts and chocolate until evenly distributed. Cover the bowl with plastic and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Put two 6-inch panettone molds on a large baking sheet. Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and cut it in half. (The dough should be very soft and supple.) Using a bench scraper and floured hands, gently shape the dough into 2 rounds, carefully folding the dough under itself. Carefully transfer the rounds seam side down to the panettone molds. Cover the molds with plastic and let rise in a warm place until the rounds are 1 to 2 inches from the top of the mold, 4 to 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350° and position the rack in the center. Lightly brush the tops of the panettone with the egg wash, then sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake for about 1 hour, until risen and the top is well-browned. Let cool completely, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove the panettone from the molds, cut into wedges, and serve.


What IS panettone, anyway?

Panettone is a cake-like yeast bread that’s dotted with bits of dried fruit. No, not a fruit cake, though it’s often mistaken as such.

Panettone has its origins in Milano, but it’s available throughout Italy during the holiday season. Stores carry the bread in a variety of sizes, perfect for sharing with friends. At family gatherings, the bread might be served with a glass of prosecco after a holiday meal. It’s a tradition that is embraced by Italian families all over the world!

If you have any Italian friends in your circle, you may very well have been gifted a loaf of this bread during the holiday season.

While Panettone is readily available in Italy, it’s not as common in America. If you wish to experience this Italian tradition, making it panettone at home from scratch is a wonderful way to do so!

Making this panettone recipe from scratch

You’ll need to plan ahead for this one! This yeasted bread requires that you make a “starter” or “sponge” and let it sit overnight. This bubbly mixture of flour, water, and yeast gives the dough a bit of a head start!

Left overnight, this starter will begin to rise and the yeast will become active, giving good rise to the panettone bread.

The following day, you’ll combine the remaining ingredients — except for the dried fruits and zest! — with the starter and allow the dough to rise for an hour or two. Once it’s nice and puffy, it’s time to add the fruit that makes this panettone recipe sing.

While this bread could be made in loaf pans, a traditional panettone recipe is baked in special paper molds. These molds are oven-proof and make it easy for giving — just tie on a ribbon or bow and off you go!

Transfer the completed dough to a baking mold and allow it to rise again, then bake. (Bread making isn’t difficult, but it does require a bit of patience!)


If anyone were to ask you “What is panettone?”, you’d say it’s pretty easy to answer: It’s that dry, bread-like cake, shaped like a dome, sort of tasteless, that pops up around Christmas and that supposedly nobody likes… right?

Last Christmas, I went to Milan to investigate where panettone comes for BBC Travel. I learned about the history of panettone, how it’s made and the traditions of how (and when) it’s eaten in Milan (and around Italy).

Beautifully-wrapped panettoni are in the window displays of every self-respecting bakery in Milan this time of year — like this one at Pasticceria Cucchi

And, needless to say, I learned what all the fuss is about.

Spoiler alert: When it’s made properly — and good Lord, is it laborious to make properly — it is a completely. Different. Food.

Go on, have a slice…

Have you ever heard that the best recipe for panettone is the one that involves soaking it in egg and serving it as French toast? Yeah, no. With the slices I tried, that would be a travesty.

So what is panettone, really? And where does it come from?

When was panettone first made?

Panettone (pronounced pan-eh-tone-ay the plural, by the way, is panettoni) dates back to the early Renaissance. Back then, wheat was precious — so precious that until the 14th century, nearly every bakery in Milan made wheat bread only at Christmas, when they gave it to their clients.

Andrea Rampinelli shows off his panettoni at Pasticceria MacMahon

Still, that panettone looked little like today’s. The first record we have of a similar kind of cake shows up in an 1839 Italian-Milanese dictionary, where the entry for panettone describes the recipe as including butter, eggs, sugar and raisins. But we can’t be sure how similar it would have been otherwise — one difference is that it likely would have used far less butter than today’s version. Even 20 years ago, the cake was nowhere near as rich as it is now.

So where does (today’s) panettone come from?

“Until the end of the 19th Century, it still was a food that, for the most part, you’d only encounter in Milan. Then came Angelo Motta.

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When Motta opened his Milan bakery in 1919, panettone was made much like a big loaf of bread. But then a client came to place a special order. He was a Russian émigré in Milan who had fled the Bolshevik revolution, and he wanted 200 kulich – Russian Easter cakes – for a party. When Motta looked at the recipe, he noticed something interesting: it was very similar to panettone. One difference? It was made inside a tall, cylindrical tin. Motta adopted the mold for panettone, using a ring of paper instead to give the dough the vertical, puffed-top shape that we see today.”

Baker Angelo Polenghi makes panettoni at his bakery in Milan — note the ring of paper, a 1920s invention

Shortly after, the process was streamlined and industrialized — and panettoni began to be shipped ’round the world.

And if you’re lucky enough to be in Milan, the birthplace of this oh-so-delicious treat, around the holidays…

Where to buy panettone in Milan

Every local has a favorite spot where they buy (or, more likely, put in their pre-orders) for panettoni. After some intensive taste-testing, here were some of my favorite places for panettone in Milan:

Pasticceria Polenghi, a hole-in-the-wall, family-run bakery, is one of my top spots for panettone in Milan

Pasticceria Angelo Polenghi. This hole-in-the-wall bakery is everything you’d want from a local pasticceria: Everything is made on-site in the tiny kitchen in the back, it’s family-run, and the head baker, 85-year-old Angelo Polenghi, has worked here every day practically since his mother opened it in 1945. Oh, and the sweets — including the much sought-after panettone — are to die for. Via Lamarmora 31, a 20-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride from the Duomo.

Pasticceria MacMahon. It’s a bit out of the center (though easily accessible on the tram), but the journey is worth it for the sweets here. The head baker Andrea Rampinelli, whose family has run it since 1971, is young and passionate about the process and ingredients (think Madagascan vanilla and organic fruit he candies himself), and you can taste it in the quality — and deliciousness — of the results. Via dei Frassini 31, 30 minutes on public transit from the Castello Sforzesco.

Pasticceria Cucchi. This elegant spot has been a local favorite since 1936. They’re famous across the city for their panettone, which (like the others) is made without preservatives and should be eaten fresh — and having tried it, I can say their fame is well-deserved. Corso Genova 01, a stone’s throw from the Colonne di San Lorenzo.

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How To Make Panettone

*A Note About Candied Orange and Lemon Peel

Please, please, PLEASE do yourself a HUGE favor and leave the store-bought stuff on the shelf. I am not exaggerating when I say that using Homemade Candied Citrus Peel makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in the flavor of your panettone! It’s easy to make and trust me, you’ll be SO happy you did!

Equipped with your homemade candied citrus peel, you’re ready to make panettone!

To Prepare the Fruit Mixture: Place the raisins, candied lemon peel, candied orange peel, lemon and orange zest in a small bowl and pour 1/4 of hot water over them. Stir, cover and let soak for at least 2 hours or overnight. Drain any excess liquid before adding it to the panettone dough.

For the Starter: Stir the yeast into the lukewarm water and let it sit for about 10 minutes until frothy. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment (if your bowl is too large for that small of quantity knead it by hand). Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture.

Shape the dough into a ball and put it in a very lightly greased bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in size. Punch it down, cover with plastic wrap again and refrigerate it overnight.

The next day take it out and let it come to room temperature before proceeding (this will take about 2 hours). Let it rise until nearly doubled in size and then gently punch it down before adding it to the panettone batter.

To Prepare the Panettone: Place the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in the stand mixer and stir to combine. Attach the dough hook attachment. Add the egg yolks and milk.

Mix it until it comes all comes together. Punch down the starter dough and add it to the stand mixer.

Knead the mixture for 5 minutes, regularly scraping down the sides.

Add the softened butter, vanilla and honey and knead for another 10 minutes. (Yes, that’s 10 minutes.)

The mixture should be totally smooth and elastic but not overly sticky.

Knead the dough until the fruit is fully incorporated.

Gently punch down the dough.

Butter the panettone mold.

Form the dough into a ball and place it seam side down in the buttered panettone mold.

Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise for about another 2 hours or until doubled in size. It should be risen to about 1 inch or so higher than the rim of the mold.

Towards the end of this final rise preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (325 if using convection) and place the rack in the lower third of the oven.

If you’d like a glossy finish on your panettone, lightly beat an egg in small bowl.


How to Eat Panettone

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Panettone is a sweet bread originating from Milan, Italy that is often eaten around Christmas time. It is tall and cylindrical in shape, has a fluffy sourdough texture, and traditionally contains raisins and candied orange or other citrus fruits, though there are other types including chocolate as well. There are many ways to eat panettone, either using simple traditional methods or by including it in various recipes, so you can enjoy it however you and your family like best!


Classic Christmas Italian Panettone

From the Italian panetto or small cake, panettone is a large fruity enriched sweet bread, offered typically during Christmas throughout Italy and in Italian communities around the world. Originated in Milan, it is a large, dome-shaped cake that has been leavened with yeast. It has a slightly light and airy texture but a rich and buttery taste, and is not very sweet. The jury is still out on whether panettone is a cake or a bread because it's both as chewy as a loaf of bread and as fruity and sweet as a fruit cake. Pandoro, another Italian Christmas bread, is often confused with panettone but is a star-shaped golden cake, without any dried fruit, from the city of Verona.

Filled with dried fruits and candied peels, spongy panettone needs care and attention, but making it is not as difficult as it might seem, as our straightforward recipe shows. Sliced or pulled by hand, alone or with butter, cream, or fruit preserves, don't miss out on this wonderful dessert, great for brunches, coffee, and tea times.


Panettone Recipe

In this post you will find a much wanted Panettone recipe, as well as tips, recommendations and a helpful dough calculator.

The recipe is a well known formula from chef Piergiorgio Giorilli, adapted by Michael from The Fresh Loaf website.

Aromatic Mix

Directions

  • Night before making the dough mix all the ingredients for aromatic mix and let them soak in the fridge overnight.

First Dough

  • 69g stiff starter (40% hydration)
  • 75g sugar
  • 120g water
  • 54g egg yolks
  • 72g butter
  • 240g flour

Directions

  • Mix water and sugar, add stiff starter and flour.
  • Add butter, knead until well incorporated, slowly add egg yolks.
  • Total mixing time about 20-25 min.

Second Dough

  • 60g flour
  • 66g sugar
  • 4g salt
  • 96g egg yolks
  • 129g butter
  • 2g malt
  • 120g raisins
  • 60g candied orange peel
  • 30g candied lemon peel

Directions

  • Mix flour and malt, add first dough, knead well, add sugar, egg yolks, salt and flavorings, incorporate butter.

  • Total mixing time 45-55 min.
  • Before shaping, insert 2 bamboo sticks into each paper mold. It will help, after baking, to hang panettone upside down for stabilization. You can poke the baked panettone with sticks, but I find it less efficient.
  • Divide according the size of your mold.

Use this helpful tool below to figure out the amount of dough needed for various Panettone mold sizes.

  • Bake at 350F for 25-35 minutes depending on the weight of panettone. Hang them upside down for about 12 hours to stabilize the crumb.

Critical Points

  1. Strong flour, high quality ingredients are very important.
  2. Leavening is the foundation of success when making panettone. By using the stiff sourdough starter for the Panettone production you achieve two things: extend Panettone’s shelf life and give it that unique fluffiness.
  3. Strong and active stiff starter (lievito madre) with balanced level of acidity. It has to be properly fermented and refreshed before it is added to the dough.
  4. Temperature of the dough is something to keep an eye on. Keep monitoring the temperature during mixing. It shouldn’t go higher then 28 C/82 F.
  5. The order of adding ingredients during mixing is important as well. First dough will take 20-25 minutes to knead. Second dough will take 45-50 minutes to knead.

And the most important piece – is your patience.

Panettone is a very time consuming baked good to work with, but it is so worth it.

If you feel that you need additional information on how to prepare stiff starter (lievito madre) from liquid sourdough starter, how to decrease acidity of the final product, how to properly mix the ingredients, or want to review detailed step by step video instructions on this topic please consider my Panettone Course.


Fiasconaro is a visionary Sicilian company that we consider pioneers of the traditional Italian panettone — thanks to their classic original cake recipe that maintains the utmost respect for local Sicilian ingredients. Not just a traditional holiday cake anymore, Fiasconaro’s new and innovative panettone — made with only the best Sicilian ingredients (that undergo a lengthy natural fermentation process) — has changed the name of the panettone game.

Fiasconaro is a modern and ever expanding pastry company that started in 1953 with Mario Fiasconaro as head chef. Inspired by their father, the three Fiasconaro brothers — Fausto, Martino and Nicola — grew from little kids who loved helping out the pastry shop to successful entrepreneurs. Today, Fausto is the showroom manager, Martino leads the administration and Nicola is the award-winning pastry chef.

Sicily is a continuous source of inspiration for Fiasconaro. The company was founded in Castelbuono, between the Cefalù Sea and the mountains of Madonie in the province of Palermo. A unique ecosystem makes Castelbuono one of the most well maintained and preserved towns in the area surrounded by a rich natural heritage. The family’s love for Sicily and for the rhythms of its local flora and fauna remain essential parts of the Fiasconaro philosophy. Nicola Fiasconaro, head pastry chef, tells us the secret to the perfect panettone recipe and how the Sicilian version became popular in the Northern American market.

Nicola e Mario Fiasconaro

Fiasconaro entered the Northern American market 20 years ago. Since then, the company has grown a lot. How did you conquer the U.S. market?

We always and only focus on the tradition, the quality and the respect for the ingredients. When we first started, panettone was called “Christmas cake” in the U.S. and back then, few Italian companies were starting to explore the market. We carried not only the classic tradition of the Italian panettone but the Sicilian identity that comes with our products. Customers started to get to know us more and became loyal to our philosophy and story.

Over time, we have spread the concept of the craftsmanship tied to our panettone. What made the difference is our export politics that are pretty tight on the shelf life of the products. We don’t ship and sell panettone with more than 3-6 months shelf life. This is because we want to guarantee the freshness and respect for both our clientele and [our] ingredients.

The distinctive trademark of Fiasconaro’s bakery is the sourdough, a very long process of fermentation that lasts 36 hours. Can you tell us more about it?

Sourdough originates from the “madre”, a fermented batter-like dough to which water and flour are added progressively. It’s a process that always has the same rhythm and requires ability, care and above all the rejection of the use of chemical additives and preservatives ensuring a surprisingly long life at the same time for the product. Through this absolutely natural process, the dough provides unique and unmatched qualitative characteristics such as lightness and fragrance.

Fiasconaro panettone brings the classic recipe of the traditional Northern Italy panettone together with Sicilian creativity. What makes your panettone so special and unique?

We are the pioneers when it comes to the handcrafted panettone in Sicily. Before us, panettone mostly belonged to the commercial market and the big companies — except for some small bakeries and pastry shops in Northern Italy. We started a revolution by creating a Sicilian panettone made by following the classic dough recipe and by adding only Sicilian ingredients. We came up with unique recipes that feature Sicilian ingredients such as Pistachio from Bronte, Chocolate from Modica, Manna from Castelbuono and citrus from Sicily.

Your panettone is the best seller on Amazon. Which flavors do your customers like the most?

The traditional one with fresh candied orange and raisins, flavored with Marsala and Zibibbo. Panettone with Pistachio cream from Bronte is also very popular in the market, both international and domestic.

A new line of panettone has been created as a result of your successful partnership with D&G. What is the new flavor of the 2019 Christmas campaign?

The collaboration between the creativity of Dolce & Gabbana and the confectionery artistry of Fiasconaro results in a unique recipe: the typical Milanese panettone, revisited with the flavors of Sicily. The shared ingredients of this extraordinary union between North and South are respect for tradition, courage to experiment, quest for perfection and pursuit of beauty. This year we introduced a traditional cake with “Old Samperi wine” made in Sicily. It is an artisan baked product with candied citrus fruits and raisins flavored with the fortified wine of Sicily, called “Vecchio Samperi”, accompanied by a 30 ml bottle of “Vecchio Samperi” Wine. Another cake from the D&G line is the panettone with candied chestnuts and gianduia chocolate covered with chestnut cream and dark chocolate or the panettone with fresh Sicilian candied lemon and orange, Sicilian mandarin purée and saffron.

Creativity, innovation, tradition and respect for the classic recipe. How do you combine these elements and still refer to yourself as an artisanal company?

It is not easy but it is what we do at Fiasconaro. We decided not to fall into the commercial and industrial production and stick with the craftsmanship. This may have an impact on the business in terms of numbers — which we may easily double if we follow other logic — but it keeps our story alive as a family run and artisanal company. We are growing abroad in several markets, above all in the Northern American one. We estimate a +20% in sales in the U.S with growth in other markets like Europe, Asia, Middle Eastern, Australia. Our products are a perfect fit where there is respect and knowledge for the concept of Made in Italy. The secret is to keep the tradition alive, maintain high quality ingredients as a main source and create new recipes by respecting the local ingredients.

Fiasconaro’s new generation is ready to take over. What does it mean to be a family run company?

It is the secret of our success. My son Mario, who is a young and talented pastry chef, is keeping up with the work of the line production as well as with his career as a pastry chef in our pasty shop. My daughter Agata takes care of the business and PR along with my nieces and nephews. More than 100 employees and professional people, who have embraced our philosophy, work for us. It is teamwork perfectly managed. This is our strength.

What are you working on for the next season?

We have already started the Easter production line with the colomba, the Easter cake. They are ready to be shipped overseas. As far as next Christmas, I am working on a new flavor which combines Sicilian ingredients with flowers.


Watch the video: Panettone in spiaggia! (November 2021).