That’s “panettone” with two t’s. Profuse apologies to my few — and getting fewer — Italian readers. Panettone has near-sacred status among the Italian-Americans I know. These are people who know how to eat — but who are frequently disappointed by the panettone they find in most stores, both here and in Italy where (they say) mass-produced versions have largely replaced the artisanal kind. Even so, they fear making their own because of the time involved.
It’s true that some panettone recipes have more assembly steps than an Imaginarium Pirate Island Playset (forgive me, Christmas is coming), but between the quick-rise, easy-bake iterations and the slow-rising, multi-day religious ritual versions there is a happy medium. Peter Reinhart strikes it in his masterful book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. That recipe is classic Reinhart: starter-based but with a commercial yeast “spike” that delivers the best of both worlds: a voluminous light crumb and a deep, satisfying flavor. I did a little fiddling with the flavors (I found the Fiori di Sicilia in the original to be too much), but otherwise this recipe is quite close to the original.
For the Sponge
7 ounces (1 cup) active (i.e. revived and ready) bread starter
8 ounces (1 cup) warm milk
4.5 ounces (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
For the Fruit Blend
6 ounces (1 cup) golden raisins
6 ounces (1 cup) candied fruit blend (or a mix of dried fruits if you prefer)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) brandy, rum or whiskey (optional, substitute 1 tbsp. bourbon extract of you can find it)
2 teaspoons orange or lemon extract
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 large orange, finely grated
For the Dough
13.5 ounces (3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 large eggs, room temperature
1-2 ounces (2 to 4 tablespoons) warm water
4 ounces (1/2 cup) soft butter
5 ounces (1 cup) blanched, slivered almonds
The day before baking, make the sponge. Stir the ingredients together just until the flour is wet. Cover and ferment at room temperature for 4 hours before putting it in the refrigerator for an overnight sit. Meanwhile mix the fruit blend ingredients together in a bowl. Cover the bowl and let the mixture sit out on the counter overnight.
The next day take the sponge out of the fridge and let it sit for an hour before beginning the dough. Put the dry dough ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle (beater) attached. Stir the ingredients together, then add the sponge, egg and egg yolk, plus as much of the water as you need to make a dough. Stop the machine and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Switch to the dough hook. Turn the mixer back on low and add the butter. When it’s incorporated add the fruit blend. Keep stirring until the fruit is evenly distributed, then knead an additional 2-4 minutes, steadily adding in the almonds. Knead until you have a soft dough that’s still slightly sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise about 2 hours.
For two large 2-pound loaves, divide the dough in half and shape it into two large balls. Place them into panettone baking papers or six-inch-round pans. Press the dough down lightly. It should be about half way up the forms. Now then, you can make much smaller panettones if you wish. You can make shallower versions in parchment-lined cake layer pans (still excellent), even mini ones in muffin tins. Either way, proof them for 2 more hours. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and set a rack in the lower third of your oven.
Bake 2-pound loaves for 1 1/2 hours. Minis for 25-25 minutes and medium-sized versions for somewhere in between. If the tops are getting too brown, cover them with aluminum foil. Transfer the breads to a cooling rack (if they’re in papers leave those on, otherwise de-pan them first). They’ll keep at room temperature for up to two weeks. That can also be frozen for up to 3 months.