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.
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.
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.
So, I embarked on my Panettone Journey, to try to create a recipe that would help me enjoy this favorite treat again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 1: The Beginning
Day 2: First Madre Mix
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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:
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.