Panettone

ChristmasHolidayMake-aheadBread

Make the holidays extra special with a homemade loaf of panettone. This enriched Italian Christmas bread—dotted with rum-soak dried fruit, citrus, and almonds—is easy to make at home with the time-saving tip of letting it rise overnight in the refrigerator.

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

Panettone is a towering round of sweet bread speckled with raisins, citrus, and almonds with a plush, buttery texture that is popular both here and all over Italy during the winter holidays.

It makes a dramatic Christmas dessert or breakfast treat. Its Milanese origins date back to the Renaissance, when, it is said, wheat was so scarce and precious it was made only at Christmas.

These days, scores of beautifully wrapped versions of this tall, round cake appear pretty much everywhere in December in Italian and even ordinary grocery stores. Those versions vary in quality; many of them are rather cloying with artificial flavors. So read on, all ye who love a baking challenge!

Yes, this bread is a project! (Two days!) When researching its Italian origins, many accounts of baking it at home were so intimidating that I was ready to give up before I attempted it. But I will not be defeated by yeast, my friends! It took a few tries and also a few shortcuts to get this bread in and out of the oven looking glorious.

I’ve labored over this recipe, so you don’t have to—all you really need is patience for the rising time. The rest is straightforward!

Panettone is a Labor of Love

On day one, there is a preliminary rise of 45 minutes. After that, mix the final dough and pop it into the fridge. The yeast does its work while you sleep!

On day two, you just have to shape the bread, stick it in the mold, and wait for it to rise. And then, into the oven.

Although this hardly seems like the short version, I did change up some of the traditional baking methods to shorten the time (and energy) it takes to make panettone.

  • Replaced the biga with a sponge: I replaced the biga, which is like a sourdough starter and takes at least one day to develop flavor, with a sponge. The sponge is just another starter, but it’s ready to use in only 45 minutes. This switcheroo shaved off an entire day and instead takes only 45 minutes.
  • Let the dough rise overnight: I compensated for the biga/sponge shortcut by giving the dough an overnight slow rise in the fridge, which can be extended to two days. The long rise in the fridge gives the dough more flavor, makes it easier to shape, provides flexibility, and some of the work happens while you sleep. This is a win in my book.

To slices of easy homemade panettone on pink plates with forks.

TIPS FOR MAKING PERFECT PANETTONE

Start any time you like during the day or late afternoon that works for you.

  • Weigh the flour: If you have a scale, weigh the flour for a more accurate amount. That said, a measuring cup is fine, just use the fluff and scoop method (fluff the flour in the canister before spooning it into the measuring cup and leveling with a knife or scoop). Either way, you may need to add additional flour by a few tablespoons at the end of mixing if the dough seems extra sticky, depending on the brand you are using and the amount of moisture in your flour. Variations in flour type and measurements can contribute to the need for minor adjustments, but this is nothing to worry about.
  • Set up a mise en place: Mise en place is the French culinary term meaning to set up everything in advance, or literally, to put everything in its place. It’s a good habit for baking, which I tend to skip and therefore end up scrambling. If you measure ingredients in advance, you will not get confused when adding ingredients in stages or forget a key ingredient.
  • Write out your game plan: With a slightly complex but doable two-day baking project, I suggest you write out a timeline, outlining what time you are going to start and each subsequent step, with specific rising, preheating, and baking times solidly on paper.
  • On day one, measure each ingredient that will go into the dough, and place everything on a baking sheet. Do this while the sponge is rising and the fruit is soaking. This way, you are ready to roll, and the steps to making the dough go a lot faster.

2-Day PANETTONE BAKING TIMELINE

Day One:

Prep time: 30 minutes

Rising time: 45 minutes, plus 8 hours (or up to 2 days) inactive time

  • 9:00 a.m.: Make the sponge (starter) and let it rise for 45 minutes. Prepare and soak the fruit. Meanwhile, prepare the ingredients for mixing the dough (mise en place).
  • 9:45 a.m.: Mix and knead the dough. (20 minutes)
  • 10:00 a.m.: Form the dough into a ball in the bowl, and let it rise in the refrigerator for 8 hours, or up to 2 days.

Day Two:

Prep time: 10 minutes

Rising time: 2 to 3 hours

Bake time: 70 to 75 minutes

  • 9:00 a.m.: Shape the dough into a rectangle, spread with fruit, form into a ball, and set into the mold. (10 minutes)
  • 9:10 a.m.: Let the dough rise (2 to 3 hours)
  • 11:10 -12:25: Bake the panettone (70 to 75 minutes)

A loaf of homemade panettone in a paper mold with a slice cut out with a holiday wreath around the base.THE BEST PAN FOR PANETTONE

A panettone pan is typically an oven-safe, tall, straight-sided mold. You can find them made of metal or of paper (which is what we use in this recipe).

Paper panettone molds are inexpensive and pretty easy to find online or at kitchenware stores (call ahead). They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. I used a 7-inch wide by 4-inches high paper panettone mold from Sur La Table.

Alternatively, for this amount of dough, you could use an oven-safe, straight-sided pot of similar dimensions, a 10-inch cake pan with 2-inch sides, or a greased 9-inch tube pan. Just make sure to put parchment rounds in the bottom of the pans or pot.

If using metal pans or pots rather than paper molds, butter and flour the pans and line them with parchment.

HOW TO SLICE AND SERVE PANETTONE

Slice panettone into thick or thin wedges; it’s entirely up to you. If you baked it in a paper mold, just slice right through it.

Panettone is more bread than cake—it’s only slightly sweet. Feel free to eat it plain, or slather with butter.

STORING AND FREEZING PANETTONE

Cool completely and wrap the bread well in foil. The panettone should last up to five days, though it tends to be a bit drier after a day or two.

I have never seen a scrap left after the first day. You can also wrap it in plastic and then foil, and freeze it for up to two months.

A slice of Panettone, Italian Chirstmas Bread, on a plate with a fork while the rest of the loaf is in the background.

WHAT TO DO WITH LEFTOVER PANETTONE

In the unlikely event you do have a single leftover slice—toast it, butter it, and have it with coffee in the morning. Or if you have several slices, use them to make French toast or bread pudding.

MORE HOLIDAY DESSERT RECIPES!

Panettone Recipe

  • Prep time: 40 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Combined Rise time: 14 hours
  • Yield: 12-16 servings

Ingredients

For the dough and sponge:

  • 5 cups (600g) all-purpose flour, divided, plus a little more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast (slightly more than 1 packet)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 5 large eggs
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1/3 cup (68 g) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks, 170g) room temperature unsalted butter, to make the dough
  • 1 tablespoon (14g) cold unsalted butter for the top of the dough
  • Vegetable oil spray (for the dough bowl)

For the fruit and nuts:

  • 1/2 cup dark raisins
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup best quality candied orange peel, or a combination of 1/4-inch diced dried fruit, such as apricots, pears, cranberries, or dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup dark rum, such as Meyer’s rum
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, optional

Special equipment:

Method

DAY ONE:

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Rising time: 45 minutes for the sponge, plus overnight rise

1 Make the sponge (starter) and let it rise: In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir 1 cup flour and 1 tablespoon instant yeast together until blended. Add the water and mix with a spoon. It should be the consistency of thick cake batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes. The sponge should double in size.

(If using active dry yeast, place the water in the bowl first, stir in the yeast, and let stand until bubbly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour.)

Sponge for Panettone starter in a silver mixing bowl

 2 Soak the fruit: In a small bowl, stir the dark raisins, golden raisins, candied orange peel, rum, and water together. Cover with a plate and let soak overnight. Measure the almonds and set the measuring cup on top of the plate (so you don’t forget them).

Mixed dried, rum-soaked fruit for German Stollen Christmas bread in a glass bowl. Mixed dried, rum-soaked fruit for German Stollen Christmas bread in a glass bowl.

3 Measure the flour and salt: In a bowl, whisk the remaining flour and salt together until blended.

4 Mix the dough: Once the sponge has risen, transfer the bowl to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Set it on medium speed, and add the eggs to the sponge one at a time, until each is incorporated. Continue at medium speed and add the orange zest, sugar, and vanilla.

Drop the mixer to low speed and gradually add about 2 1/2 cups of the flour mixture and mix for about 2 minutes, or until blended.  You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl. The dough should be very soft and stretchy. On low speed, gradually add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour until it is incorporated.

5 Knead the dough: Switch to the dough hook. Knead on low speed for 8 minutes, or until the dough is very smooth and elastic. Stop 2 or 3 times to push down any dough that creeps up on the dough hook.

With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, until it is incorporated. Continue to mix with the dough hook for 3 minutes until the dough is silky and shiny.

If it still seems extremely sticky, gradually add from 1 to 4 tablespoons additional flour. The dough should be very soft and still sticky and will just barely pull away from the sides of the bowl, but not the bottom.

6 Overnight rise in the refrigerator: Keeping the dough in the bowl, pat it into a ball. Spray lightly with vegetable oil spray and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the dough. Refrigerate for 8 hours or up to 2 days.

DAY TWO

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Rising time: 2 to 3 hours, or longer if the kitchen is cold
  • Baking time: 70 to 75 minutes

7 Prepare to finish the dough: Place the panettone mold on a baking sheet. Drain the fruit.

Turn the dough onto a floured workspace and roll it into a flat rectangle that is approximately 12- by 15-inches (you don’t need to be exact). Spread the drained fruit and the almonds evenly over the top. With a rolling pin, roll forcefully over the fruit and nuts to embed them into the dough.

Rectangle of homemade panettone with fruit and almonds.

8 Shape the dough:  Fold the long sides of the fruit-covered dough into thirds (like a letter). You will end up with a rectangle. Then fold the bottom half of the rectangle to meet the top to form a square. Pat the square to a thickness of about 1 1/2 inches. Bring the corners in toward the center to form a ball, and pinch the loose ends together. Cup your hands around the dough to round the ball.

Place the dough with the seam side down inside the panettone mold. Cover with plastic and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough reaches the top edge of the mold. This can take longer if the room is cold.

Rectangle of panettone dough Small square of panettone dough Square of panettone dough Panettone dough with candied rum soaked fruit shaped into a ball. Italian Christmas bread ready to rise in a paper panettone mold.

9 Preheat the oven and score the panettone: About 30 minutes before the panettone is ready to be baked, set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375ºF.

When the dough has risen, use a sharp, serrated knife to cut a shallow cross from edge to edge. You are scoring the surface, rather than cutting into it deeply. Place the cold pat of butter in the center of the dough.

Fully risen homemade holiday panettone dotted with fruit in a paper mold.

10 Bake the panettone: Turn the oven down to 325ºF. Bake the panettone for 30 minutes. Then place a piece of foil loosely over the top to keep it from browning too much. Continue to bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the dough registers 195°F. (Poke it through the side of the cake, through the paper, so you don’t mar the top). Remove it from the oven, transfer to rack, and let cool completely in the paper mold.

Panettone tented with foil

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

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2 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. June

    Just took it out of the oven and it is beautiful. Took an extra hour to proof (63 degrees in the house) and an extra 25 minutes to cook as I don’t have a convection oven but the directions are flawless and well worth the effort. Thanks Simply recipes. I can always count on you!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. foodie

    Thanks for your effort to make complicated recipe into simple for us..defiantly i will try this for festive holiday.

A loaf of homemade panettone in a paper mold with a slice cut out with a wreath around the base.Panettone