Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Ma'am began her Christmas baking right after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I'd cross the street to join her in the kitchen and watch her confections come to life. The bungalow kitchen was long and narrow; a large chrome table was pushed against one wall and chairs were moved to the porch so the surface of the table could be used as a work area for the bouts of extreme baking that were about to occur. She began by making candied peel and macerating raisins, dates and apricots in a bath of sherry or dark rum. I cracked walnuts, pecans and almonds with an ancient, charmless nut cracker whose use was strictly functional. We'd toast the nuts, she wipe her hands, pat me on the head and finally call it a day. A week later she'd start to bake her Christmas cakes. The cassata and rum cakes were Lucullean, but the panettone, while beautiful, was dense, dry and unappealing. The secret for perfect panettone never made the passage from Sicily to her new world kitchen. I'd dutifully carry our cake home where my Mom would take one look, shake her head and use it to make bread pudding. A few days ago I read that panettone has become the new fruit cake. That's a shame. Twenty years ago I would have shared that assessment, but I had an attitude readjustment when I discovered Sorini panettone. Bob and I both had jobs that put us on corporate Christmas lists and the number and size of the Christmas baskets we received was a testament to wretched excess and a lack of corporate imagination. We were able to re-gift the baskets to a local shelter, but the panettone usually came after the baskets had been picked up. So, it happened I that I was again exposed to panettone. The Sorini bread was incredibly good and it became a much anticipated Christmas favorite. Of course when we retired the panettone well went dry. Those who know me well know that I won't pay five dollars for a loaf of bread. Imagine my thoughts about paying $39.99 for panettone. I'm happy to report that after ten years of trying I've finally come up with a light, moist panettone that's close to that of the Sorinis and costs far less than the ransom that is charged for theirs. The bread requires a sponge, so you'll need a day's lead time for it to develop and another day to make the bread. All ingredients should be at room temperature before proceeding. The dough will be a bit sticky, but that's as it should be. I use fresh, candied peel and toasted almonds to make my panettone. Next year I want to swap glaced chestnuts - homemade of course - for the almonds. While I'd love a drumroll, it's probably best that we just move on. Here, on it's maiden voyage, is Mary's.....
Day One Sponge
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
Day Two Bread
3/4 cup soft butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 cup light raisins
1/2 cup dark raisins
1 cup toased almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh candied orange peel, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons candied lemon peel, coarsely chopped
1) To make sponge: Combine flour, water and yeast in a medium bowl. Mix with a spoon until smooth. Cover; set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 hours.
2) To make panettone: Place butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Add in whole egg and two egg yolks; beat until smooth. Stir in sponge (made day before); beat just till smooth. Stir in vanilla and buttermilk, mix well. Stir in 2 cups flour and salt; mix until well combined. Mix in yeast. Let rest for 20 minutes, uncovered. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of reserved flour on work surface. Place dough on floured surface. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup reserved flour; knead for 8 to 10 minutes, adding additional flour only as needed. Dough will remain sticky. Spread raisins, almonds and candied peel on work surface; knead mixture into dough. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat all surfaces. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours. Lightly grease two 6 cup molds or souffle dishes. Punch down dough, cut into two equal pieces
and place in molds. Cover and let rise for 2 hours, or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Bake in center of oven for 50 to 55 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes. Gently remove from pans. Cool on wire racks. Yield: 2 Loaves.
Credit for this recipe must be shared with the folks at Cooking Bread a wonderful site for the very kneady (sorry I couldn't resist).