This year, as in previous years, I am experimenting with Pannettone. This wonderful, but complicated Italian Christmas bread/cake is one of the baking challenges that I haven’t yet mastered. I have tried it a few times over the last few years, and there are several tricky parts. First, it is quite hard to find the tall narrow baking tins that are best for this bread. One year I bought a set of cheap mugs from a discount store, and lined them with baking paper to make little ones. Other years I have made small ones in muffin tins. I have on one occasion managed to buy online some of the special paper moulds that the Italians use for this bread.
Second, the bread (or at least the recipe that I usually use from Dan Lepard) involves some quite esoteric ingredients – cocoa butter, orange flower water, rose water, panettone essence, chocolate essence. I had small bottles of the latter two from a baking class in Melbourne in about 2007 that I used for a couple of years. We went looking for panettone essence (Fiori di sicilia) last year when we were in Sicily, and finally tracked some down (most places, even there, looked at us with puzzlement). The precious bottle was carefully wrapped and secreted in the bottom of a suitcase, and made it here in one piece. Then, the last challenge is getting the bread to rise. It is chock full of fruit, sugar and eggs, and I have found on several occasions that my sourdough starter goes on strike and refuses to rise. The bread, though nice, ends up quite dense.
I managed to piece together most of the ingredients this year (no orange flower water), and have tried a new approach to the baking tins. In one website I found a description of making some origami paper baskets for the bread. That seemed like a neat idea, so I ended up making a couple of different shapes (including these small, but taller boxes). Here is the mix in my new panettone ‘tins’, waiting to rise.
And here they are, later the same day...
I wasn’t sure that I would be baking the panettone yesterday. When I have made them before, the dough has been so slow to rise that I have often left it overnight and baked them the following morning. But today, to my surprise, the dough actually behaved as it was supposed to, and doubled over a period of about 6 hours. In the end I baked them after a proof of about 8 hours – extraordinarily long by the standards of most breads and cakes, but quite short for my experience with these breads. I am not sure what made the difference, except I am pretty sure that the warm humid weather here in Adelaide was a big factor, plus the warmth of our kitchen – hot from baking 6 loaves of bread, several batches of ‘stained glass’ biscuits, and roasting garlic for olive oil.
The inverted suspension is supposed to help the breads retain their airiness, and stop collapsing when they come out of the oven. I have tried that before, and I can’t remember, but I suspect that they misbehaved as the first bread did today – falling to pieces and dropping bits on the floor. There was a moment of tension as we flipped the bread over, and waited for it to fall apart. In fact, it wasn’t too bad – the top cracked, and molten chocolate started to ooze out after a few minutes – so we decided to rescue it. I think part of the problem was the size of the large bread. The smaller ones remain upside down on the clothes rack, and look as if they are behaving.
Meanwhile the house is full of the sweet, fruity, flowery perfume of this bread.
The next morning, here is the sliced final product. This is the best so far - light, not too crumbly, moist, and utterly, utterly moorish.
It is a bit of a palaver, but I suspect that this will not be my only batch of panettone this season…