The rich, light and fruity bread that the Milanese call pan del ton, which translates to “bread of luxury” is what we, here in the US, commonly refer to as panettone. I like to think of it as my little holiday bonus – a true luxury and Christmas tradition for Alen and I. Every year, as Christmas approaches, I begin to dream of thick slices of panettone, my all time favorite bread.
Alen begins to macerate fruit for our panettone a couple of weeks before we mix. Candied orange and lemon peel, golden and dark sultanas and when we feel like it, candied chestnuts, all get to know each other in a sweet syrup, spiked with orange blossom water and dark rum. Just like at the holiday office party, a little booze goes a long way, and before you know it, everybody’s best friends. We also add chunks of dark chocolate to our panettone, but not until the mixing begins.
Once we’ve mixed the dough, the fermentation process takes the most time – 15-20 hours, depending on the temperature of the room and of the dough. The benefit to such a long fermentation is a beautiful marriage of flavors as well as a light, airy and moist crumb.
When we are ready to bake, the risen dough gets topped with a soft croustillant, which will bake into a crusty, crunchy crust – and will serve as a barrier to keep the moisture inside of the bread, once it is baked, in order to prolong the shelf life of the panettone. We garnish with whole almonds and pearl sugar and we are ready to bake!
When the panettone comes out of the oven, it is important to preserve the integrity of that light airy structure that we worked so hard to develop. Large breads like this will quickly deflate and sink, which will lead to a dense final product. The solution is to hang the fresh from the oven panettones upside down until they are completely cool – and have no chance of collapsing. The hanging loaves are giant Christmas ornaments, ready to be unwrapped and treasured.
Waiting for them to cool is a painstaking practice of patience – but so worth it in the end. The scent of citrus and orange blossom with roasted almonds, dark chocolate and rum raisins mingling with freshly baked sweet, buttery bread is absolutely divine – and the taste is well worth the wait. And speaking of waiting - only 9 months to go until it’s time once again to begin the beautiful process of our panettone. Already dreaming of this year’s holiday bonus!!!