You can’t have Christmas in Italy without Panettone
In Italy every season brings with it different great foods. Be it the raw ingredients that nature offers you at that time of year, since eating local is just the way Italians eat, or the different recipes that connect with different holidays and lifecycle of the year. These recipes are different in northern, central or southern Italy and sometimes even from each smaller region. And so every corner of Italy makes some version of the Panettone at Christmas.
Panettone started in Milan and has conquered Italy and much of the world
One Christmas recipe that is made all over Italy (with only slight variations) is the Panettone. Most of us have heard and – if we’re lucky – tasted Panettone. Ostensibly, it’s the traditional Christmas Italian sweet bread, aromatic, moist and just… incomparable to anything else you’ve tasted (yes, I am not impartial).
This sweet enriched bread with added dried and candied fruits and sometimes chocolates started in Milan and now every region has its particular style of mix-in and glazes. It’s enjoyed all over Italy, most of Southern and Southeastern Europe, as well as South American, and as far as Eritrea, Australia and of course here in the United States too.
Even as a little kid my Christmas time excitement for the fact that I could eat my fill of Panettone for weeks, was more than the excitement of the presents I would get. Yes, it’s that good.
My body didn’t like gluten and gluten-free Panettone wouldn’t do
Then, eleven years ago I realized that gluten was blocking my digestion and cumulatively degrading my health. All of a sudden, Christmas started looking a little bleak. I know, it seems like an overreaction, but hear me out.
- Second only to my family, food is my passion,
- Panettone is that good, and
- Gluten free Panettone just doesn’t measure up, yes even the ones made by Italian master bakers.
So, I embarked on my Panettone Journey, to try to create a recipe that would help me enjoy this favorite treat again.
Rediscovering the pleasure of Panettone with Einkorn Wheat
Two years ago, at the suggestion of a friend, and thanks to Jovial Foods I discovered the ancient wild Einkorn Wheat. I realized that my gluten issue was only with modern hybridized wheat which is packed with a lot more gluten. I could eat Einkorn Wheat. And so I immediately started working on a recipe for Einkorn Panettone.
My Panettone trial and error journey
I had never made Panettone before but I knew that it is raised with sourdough so that is what I used for my first try. Not good, the sour taste came through too strongly. And it was too dense. I knew that using Einkorn I would have to give up on the airiness of this sweet bread because the gluten is different and weaker. The strength of modern gluten holds onto all the gas that yeasts and bacteria create so you get those great big pockets of air. Original weaker gluten won’t hold if stretched too far so the air pockets are smaller. However I knew from making bread that I could build some good smaller air bubbles and that had not happened enough in my first try.
Making the lievito madre to make my Panettone rise
So then, I went for a yeast raised recipe, I tried a few of them. That solved the sourness but I just didn’t find the flavor that I was looking for and it was still too dense. So I started researching the master Panettone makers of Italy and realized that a true version of this bread is made with a specific sourdough mother or “lievito madre” that is created with fruit yeasts and built and tortured over a minimum of 20 to 40 days. That gets a specific team of yeasts and bacteria that has a sweet liquor taste and is strong enough to lift air through this highly fat and fruit enriched bread. The first wow moment is learning that sourdough cultures can be so different, the second was learning that different panettone masters had different ways of building and caring for their madre. Well, that I should have expected, Italy is more like 20 different small countries that all think they know best. I chose to start with an apple starter version that lives in a water bath. I am so grateful to Eva, a Spanish baker, that presented things more simply then the Italian masters explanations.
Panettone holidays 2020: Success!
This year I started in early November to build my madre. I think my final panettone has the great taste that I expected but still needs work in the consistency and mouthfeel. So I feel that I am halfway through my panettone journey. The surprising and fantastic result of this trek so far has been that I have a totally different kind of sourdough mother that can create breads, brioche and sweet rolls with the health benefits of sourdough cultures but without the sour taste.
Unveiling my tummy friendly low-gluten Einkorn Wheat Panettone recipe
Day 1: The Beginning
- Get 2 organic and untreated apples – you don’t even want the wax on them. Farmers market or orchard apples are best, however I did find some local apples at Whole Foods that worked.
- Cut the apples in 4 and remove the core. Don’t wash or peel them, you want the natural microorganisms living on the apples. If there is some dirt or a brown spot cut it away.
- Grate the apples.
- Place 200g of grated apples in the glass container with 200g of filtered or bottled water at 30C/86F, stir and close it tightly.
- Keep the container in a warm place, at least 26C/79F for 24 hours.
- At the end of the 24 hours your mix should have bubbles and/or smell like cider, basically some fermentation. If that did not happen, start again as your apples may have been coated or washed too much.
Day 2: First Madre Mix
- Strain the apple mix and save the water.
- With a spatula or dough hook mix 200g of apple water with 200g of Einkorn all purpose flour until you can’t see any dry flour.
- Transfer to a tall glass container, cover with a cheese cloth or plastic wrap with holes in it, and keep the container in a warm place, at least 26C/79F for 24 hours.
- Through the 24 hours your starter should have doubled in volume. At the end it might have deflated again but you will see the marks on the container of how big it grew. If it didn’t, the yeast and bacteria are not the right ones or not strong enough so its better to start again.
Day 3: The Anaerobic Culture Growth:
This process of turning your stater into a drier mix and taking the oxygen away promotes the bacterial colonies that we want, with the right taste and strength and kills off the ones that we don’t.
- Take 200g of the starter and mix with 200g of Einkorn all purpose flour. Mix well with your hands until you have a dough that is solid and is not sticking to the counter. With Einkorn you may need to let it rest for 10 minutes through the process so that the flour can soak in the moisture. Note: I used these amounts because I built up to make a few Panettones at once. As a lot of flour is used in this process, and Einkorn flour is more expensive, you can use smaller equal amounts and build a smaller starter.
- Now work the dough with a rolling pin, forming into a rectangle, folding in the top and bottom onto themselves, turning it, and rerolling into a rectangle. Repeat this a few times until the dough is smooth and starts to have a bounce.
- The last time you shape into a rectangle roll the whole thing into a log.
- Put the log into a plastic bag and roll the extra bag around the log, then wrap it with a linen or kitchen towel and tie up like a roast loosely.
- Put it in a covered pot in the same warm place and let ferment for 48 hours.
Here is a video that shows a good way to wrap and tie your lievito madre dough:
Day 5: Start daily refreshment and fermentation in water process:
This is what you will be doing every day at the same time for the next 10 days depending on how strong your madre is.
- Carefully, because the starter has created a lot of pressure, untie and unwrap the roll. It may have torn through the plastic bag as mine did.
- Collect just the inside core of the madre, cutting away any hard or discolored parts.
- Take 200g of the starter broken up unto small pieces, and mix with 200g of Einkorn all purpose flour and 78g of filtered or bottled water. Mix well, I start with a spoon or dough hook rubbing continuously around the walls of the bowl, then I place on the counter and use my hands until the dough is solid and is not sticking to the counter. With Einkorn you may need to let it rest for 10 minutes through the process so that the flour can soak in the moisture.
If you have used smaller amounts here are the water measurements:
150g starter to 150g flour to 58g water.
100g starter to 100g flour to 38g water
- As above, work the dough with a rolling pin, forming into a rectangle, folding in the top and bottom onto themselves, turning it, and rerolling into a rectangle. Repeat this a few times until the dough is smooth and starts to have a bounce.
- Roll into a rectangle and this time fold in each side onto itself and roll out so that you have a long rectangle that about the width of the container you will be keeping it in. Roll this into a log and place it in your container and pour in room temperature filtered water just to cover. A tall slim clear container is best, I only had a pitcher that was not crystal clear but it worked for me to see the fermentation happen.
- Place in the same warm place and let ferment for 24 hours.
- Your madre should grow to at least twice its size and have clear air pockets through out.
If you have worked on a starter using modern wheat before you will note that the Einkorn starter air bubbles will be smaller, but you can still get at least a doubling in size if not more. The top of the starter will make a hard shell and you will see that at the bottom some of it will be breaking down and floating to the bottom of the water. Both of these extremes are yeasts and bacterias that are not strong enough and are dying off.
- For your next refreshment take of the hard shell, squeeze off the wet outer layer and take only the core starter. That inner core should smell like sweet alcoholic cider with just a hint of vinegar at the end, that is what you are looking for.
- If your kitchen is really warm and you are noting that the madre ferments very quickly, use cold water for the mix and the bath.
- Repeat this process every day for 9 more days.
- At this point you should also make sure you order Panettone paper molds. The amounts that I have below are enough for three 5.25 inch diameter, or two 6.5 diameter high molds. Both should be at least 3.5 inches high.
The Making of the Panettone!
Day 1: Making your first “impasto” dough
Wake up early because today you will do the same refreshment as above 3 times, letting the starter ferment to double its size which will take 3.5 to 4 hours each time.
At the end of the third fermentation you are ready for the first “impasto” or dough. The ingredients are for 3 Panettone.
175 grams Lievito Madre (starter) broken up into little pieces
400 grams flour
200 grams water
136 grams egg yolk
136 grams sugar
160 grams softened unsalted butter
- Mix the water, egg yolks and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
- Place that into a stand mixer bowl with the flour and starter. With the dough hook attachment mix on slow until everything is incorporated, them mix on medium for about 10 minutes until the dough comes away from the sides a gets stretchy.
- Incorporate the butter in small bits while mixing on medium.
- Mix for another 5 minutes.
- Place in a bowl that allows for the dough to grow 3 to 3.5 times its size. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in the same warm spot to proof overnight for 14 hours until the dough has grown at least 3 times.
Day 2: Second dough and baking.
FYI I like my panettone with lots of golden raisins and very little candied orange/lemon/lime. You can take the total grams of Fruit and split is as you like. Also I use essential citrus oils to flavor it and you can just use orange and lemon essence. Using essential oils that you can eat like from Doterra you are adding the therapeutic value.
110 grams flour
90 grams sugar
157 grams softened unsalted butter
147 grams egg yolks
10 grams diastatic malt powder
2.5 TBS Vanilla
7 Drops Lemon Essential oil (Doterra)
14 Drops Orange Essential oil (Doterra)
10 Drops Mandarin Essential oil (Doterra)
8 grams salt
175 Golden raisins, I soak them in 15 grams marsala wine and 65 grams hot water for 1 hour
25 grams candied orange zest cut small
2 egg whites, mix in 40 grams caster sugar until dissolved and add 40 grams almond flour, mix well.
The final steps of making your Panettone:
- Mix the flour, sugar and malt powder
- Place the proofed dough into the mixer bowl with the hook attachment and slowly incorporate the flour mixture alternating with the egg yolks. Mix on low until fully incorporated and the dough looks stretchy.
- Incorporate the butter in small bits while mixing on medium.
- Incorporate flavorings while mixing on medium.
- Incorporate the fruit while mixing on low.
- Let rest covered for one hour.
- Divide equally between your 3 molds. Place in a warm space or in a proofing oven at 80 degrees for 8 to 10 hours until the dough has risen to the top of the molds.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Bake for 35 minutes until you see that they have risen and domed and brush them lightly with the glaze a couple of times. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes. Starting at 10 minutes test with a poker through the center, they are ready when it comes out clean
Day 2: Cooling Panettone overnight
In order to keep the domed airiness of the Panettone they need to cool upside down. Poke 2 shish kebab skewers through the bottom of each Panettone and hang upside down overnight between stacks of books or chair backs. I found that a drying rack on its side worked for me.
Day 3: Enjoy Panettone for Breakfast
These are the first that I made and I did not get the domed look but by the third batch the flavor was spot on and texture and look is getting there. Going to take a break and try again for Easter.