Well, influenced by the posts on panettone on my "other" bread forum, The Fresh Loaf, I took the plunge. The recipe I followed was Peter Reinhart's in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. He uses a wild ferment, but also spikes the dough with commercial instant dry yeast. I tend to be a sourdough purist with bread, but on this occasion, since I had never attempted panettone and had the impression from other folk that it was challenging, I decided to stay with Reinhart's recipe re adding the instant yeast. Just thought I should fess up on that, this being a sourdough forum.
I made a few tweaks to Reinhart's recipe, some by necessity. For example, I couldn't track down any fiori di sicilia, and instead made do with natural vanilla extract and Moroccan orange flower water, plus some fresh grated lemon zest. It worked out fine - more than fine, actually.
During the baking, the aroma filling the kitchen was simply - whaddayasay? - oh mama! This alone was reward enough for effort.
I had to guess the baking times. Reinhart gave a baking time range from 30 mins for small panettone to 1.5 hours for large ones, using either panettone pans or the traditional paper moulds. I had a small pan and a large one I usually use for cakes, so settled on 1 hour and 1.5 hours respectively. Fortunately, it worked out.
This is turning into the sort of detailed post that ends up boring all but the writer, so I'll cut to the chase at this point.
Result? Thrilling! This is without doubt the best panettone I have tasted. Far more depth of flavour and moister than the commercial Italian imported panettones I have tried (and that's all I can go on...I haven't had the pleasure of sampling the real deal in Italy, fresh out of an acclaimed Italian bakery).
Aesthetically, as the pics will show, I didn't do so well. The top was not domed enough and the relatively shallow cake tins precluded the sort of tall rise that are a defining feature of traditional panettones. Also, Reinhart instructed that the tops be lightly sprayed with olive oil; I had no spray, so I brushed on some oil, and I think that's why the top ended up with the look it has - the oil covering was too thick.
Whatever, this experience suggests to me that anyone thinking of having a go at panettone should do so. Providing your recipe is a good one and the instructions clear, you should be fine.
I'd like to end off by wishing all participants on this great site a joyous and safe festive season.