Christmas baking

I’m not a frequent baker. But Christmas was a good opportunity for me to make some cakes. Well, the truth is that I was still missing a few Christmas gifts on December 23. And since I didn’t feel like going shopping in the overcrowded city, I decided to prepare some homemade gifts.

Panettone is a cake, or more like a sweet bread, which is typical of the region of Milan around Christmas and New Year. It’s quite easy to make and makes a wonderful gift.

Panettone also provides us a short lesson on bread dough. Bread dough basically consists of three ingredients: wheat flour, water, and yeast. Flour from rye or barley might be used as well, but will result in an inferior, rather dry crumb. However, it is impossible to make bread from refined starch, e.g. from potatoes or maize. The difference lies in the protein content of wheat flour. Two protein families called gliadins and glutenins are important for the dough. When you knead the dough, these proteins stretch and subsequently bind to each other to form a large network called gluten. Gluten is highly elastic, its texture reminds of chewing gum. It is needed to trap the CO2 released from the yeast and, thus, to leaven the dough. Gluten is also the reason why bread loaves keep their form. And it determines the typical mouthfeel of bread as compared to pastry.

Panettone

Starter:
50 ml warm water
10 g fresh yeast
100 g wheat flour
First dough:
100 g butter
200 ml milk
10 g fresh yeast
400 g wheat flour
80 g sugar
2 egg yolks
Final dough:
100 g butter
200 g wheat flour
80 g sugar
1 tsp. salt
4 egg yolks
1 tblsp. honey
1 lemon, grated cest
1 vanilla pod, seeds
200 g candied orange peel
150 g raisins
Glaze:
1 egg

The preparation will take a total of two days, I suggest to begin in the morning. You will need an electrical mixer with bread hooks, since the dough can hardly be kneaded by hand.

For the starter, dissolve yeast in warm water (30-35 °C). Pour into a small bowl, add the flour, and mix briefly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, let rest at a warm place (26-30 °C!) for 4-6 hours.

Then, for the first dough, melt the butter and let cool for a few minutes. Slightly heat the milk (30-35 °C), dissolve the yeast in it. Put the flour in a large bowl and add the starter, dissolved yeast, melted butter, sugar, and egg yolks. Mix to make a smooth dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at the same warm place for 12 hours.

On the next day, again melt butter and let cool for a few minutes. Add flour, sugar, salt, egg yolks, honey, lemon cest, and vanilla seeds to the first dough and mix thoroughly. It is now that you want the gluten to form. Much gluten. The whole kneading will take about 15 minutes with the electrical mixer. The final dough should be highly elastic. Then add the butter and continue mixing until the butter is all taken up by the dough. Fat inhibits the formation of gluten, which is the reason why we add the butter only after the dough has already been kneaded. Finally, add candied orange peel and raisins and continue mixing just until they are evenly distributed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, let rest for 1-2 hours.

Now, it’s time to prepare your panettone mold. I simply use a pot, about 20 cm in diameter. Generously butter and flour the pot, or line it with baking parchment. Quickly knead the dough with floured hands and transfer to the pot. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 4-6 hours until the dough has fairly increased in size.

Preheat your oven to 180 °C. Whip 1 egg and brush the top of your panettone with it. Bake the panettone for about one and a half hours.

The panettone should cool upside down to prevent collapsing. Therefore, take it out of the pot and pierce some long skewers through its base. Then turn the panettone upside down and hang it over a large pot.

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