The lovely people at Waitrose got in touch again last week. Last year they asked me to take part in a project about mulled wine, this year, in the run-up to Christmas, they’re looking for bloggers to write about family foodie traditions at Christmas.
As soon as I heard about the project one word came to mind: Panettone. There was simply only one foodie tradition that sums up what Christmas is for my family: eating panettone on Christmas morning with a pot of good coffee (and tea for the non-coffee drinkers) while we exchange presents with other members of the family. As a small mountain of torn wrapping paper collects on the floor, crumbs of panettone scatter across plates as we break off pieces of this delicious sweet Italian bread to eat and enjoy. There is always music in the background: a CD of the King’s College Cambridge choir singing Christmas carols. Lights twinkle on the Christmas tree. We take it all slowly. Families are about love, nurture, care and attention. Never take anyone who is important to you for granted. Each person takes their turn to open presents while the others look on. Thus each present is fully appreciated – love and thanks, and hugs and kisses given.
The panettone tradition has been with us for so long, I can’t actually remember when or why it began. I can only think it began because of our love of Italy: the people, visiting the country, the musical language, the wonderful food. I think we used to buy croissants to warm through on Christmas morning, and then one year panettone arrived and we’ve never looked back. The tradition continued for many years with me buying panettone classico from various places in search of the ‘ultimate’ version and then sticking with one we liked best. When my daughter-in-law Lyndsey started joining in the Christmas celebrations I had to make a slight adjustment as she doesn’t like raisins and candied peel and I began buying a small, individual chocolate panettone for her. Then one year, I bought just one large chocolate version of panettone. Although it was delicious, my son and daughter felt they’d missed out on the ‘real thing’ – a panettone classico. Last year I bought a large classico, and a small pandoro (plain sweet bread) for Lyndsey. But before Christmas Day arrived, my daughter said, ‘But Rachael doesn’t like raisins, so she’ll want a pandoro too.’ So we ended up with one large panettone and one large pandoro. Which in all honesty is just a little too much sweet bread! Yes, I know you can make wonderful bread and butter pudding with panettone and the bread lasts a long while. But I’m someone who believes you can sometimes have too much of a good thing and life is often better for a little moderation.
So, when Waitrose got in touch with me, the solution to our family Christmas dilemma was obvious: make my own panettone but bake as individual ones with different fillings. That way, every family member would be happy.
I’ve often said on these pages that I’m not a great baker. It’s not so much that I can’t bake well, but I’m not into baking in a big way. I rarely make cakes and usually only dessert kinds, like Torta Caprese. I almost never attempt to make bread, except occasionally for entertaining or parties and I think it’s fun to make some focaccia. Thus it was perhaps with some naivety that I began to search for recipes for panettone. I assumed it would be very easy. It turned out that actually finding a recipe wasn’t easy – my large collection of cookery books wasn’t helpful. On the internet I came across recipes requiring literally days of cooking. Of course, most of those long hours were proving. Some requiring the dough to prove overnight or even 20 hours! Now, that really wasn’t my kind of baking. If I’m going to bake occasionally, I want it to be simple.
Eventually Gino D’Acampo came to the rescue in the form of a much simpler recipe. It still needed a total of three and a half hours proving in three stages, but it could be done relatively quickly. I did in the end change the recipe a bit, although stuck to his basic instructions, and of course I was going to cook a recipe for one large panettone as a few little ones, and thus have to guess the timing. Other recipes I’d looked at had flavoured the basic dough with vanilla, and orange and lemon zest, so I did this too. My plan was to make a good basic dough that would taste great on its own, but add different flavourings to some of the little panettone.
I went shopping, of course, in Waitrose! They’d provided me with a generous gift voucher to buy ingredients, but in all honesty it’s where I go anyway – some of the things, the caster sugar, even the Italian mixed peel, I already had. My plan was to make three kinds: classico, chocolate and plain (pandoro). I thought I’d make them in muffin cases but found some wonderful ‘tulip’ cups in the baking section of Richmond Waitrose which were perfect for panettone. (I should have bought two packs as later I saw I was supposed to use a double layer of greaseproof paper when baking, so improvised by putting the tulip cup filled with dough into a muffin case. That had an advantage though, for by using three colours, I could identify the three different fillings easily!)
- 7g pack Easy Bake yeast
- 125ml full fat milk, warm
- 400g strong white bread flour
- 2 pinches of salt
- 2 eggs
- 80g caster sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 150g soft unsalted butter, plus extra for brushing (please don’t use margarine!)
- zest of 1 orange
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
- 30g sultanas soaked in 1 tablespoon brandy
- 30g Italian mixed candied peel
- 30g chopped dark plain chocolate
Melt the yeast in the warm milk. Set aside 2 tablespoons flour then sift the remaining into a large bowl. Sprinkle over salt and make a well in centre. Pour in the yeast and milk with the 2 whole eggs and gently mix it all together. It makes a very thick ‘batter’.
Sprinkle over the 2 reserved spoonfuls of flour then cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a warm place for 35 minutes. I just left mine in the kitchen, which I decided was about as warm as anywhere in the house but if you have a warm airing cupboard, that’s a good place. Don’t leave in a hot place though – too fast rising spoils the dough.
Measure out the butter and sugar and add the zests, egg yolks and vanilla to the sugar and mix together. Add it all to the dough. Knead for 5 minutes with an electric dough hook until smooth and elastic. If you don’t have an electric mixer, you can do this by hand, but getting to the right consistency will take a bit longer. You can test it’s done by pressing a finger into the dough and seeing if it pops straight out again – that shows it’s elastic now.
I tipped it onto a floured surface and just briefly kneaded and shaped into a ball. I then put it into a clean, oiled bowl, covered with cling film and left in a warm place for 2 hours. While the dough was rising, I got my muffin tin ready with the tulip cups. I’d planned to make 12 small panettone but in the end the mixture was perfect for just 9 – 3 each of 3 different flavours.
As I said above, it should be a double layer and because I hadn’t bought enough tulip cups I sat them in muffin cups of three different colours for the three flavours. When the dough has doubled in size after 2 hours, tip onto a floured surface and knock back, then divide into three. I used scales to make sure this was accurate.
Take the first third of dough and divide (using scales again) into three. This will be the pandoro – plain and just flavoured with the added zest and vanilla. Put each piece into one tulip cup. Take another third of dough, sprinkle over the candied peel and sultanas and knead into the dough well. Now divide into 3 and put into 3 cups. Take the final third of dough and knead in chopped chocolate pieces, divide into three and put into the final 3 cups. Cover with a couple of layers of cling film as best you can and leave in a warm place for 1 hour. By then they should have risen nicely. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross in the top of each panettone. Brush with a little melted butter. Then transfer to a preheated 190C/170 Fan/Gas 5 oven. Cook for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4 and brush the tops of the panettone with a little more melted butter. Cook for another 15 minutes. They should be risen and golden. Check they’re cooked through by gently inserting a small sharp knife into one and leave in the oven for another 5 minutes, if necessary. Mine were fine though after 15 minutes, and I brought them out to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Then transfer to a cooling rack.
When completely cold, sift over a little icing sugar. Traditionally, this is usually only done to pandoro, but I thought it would be nice (and easier) to just sift some over all the little panettone. Then transfer to a large plate or container for keeping them. Some of the recipes said panettone could be ‘matured’ over a month, but I think these ones are for fairly instant eating, though will obviously keep for a few days – if you can resist them!
They looked pretty amazing. But how did they taste? I felt slightly nervous about it. If they were a disaster then I’d have to try again, having taken on the challenge for Waitrose and accepted their kind gift. I made the panettone on Saturday. I was planning to visit family in Kent for lunch on Sunday but suggested I stopped en route at Jonathan and Lyndsey’s for morning coffee and to try out the panettone. My son is a kind but honest critic.
I held my breath as I cut into one and divided it into half.
Phew! Cooked through and a nice, open texture. As for the taste, we all thought they were amazing. Really, really good. Wow! Adding the vanilla and zests had given the base a delicious full flavour, but of course adding chocolate to one and the peel and sultanas to the other matched the base flavour well. I was very excited they were such a success. I took more down to Kent where they were also approved and appreciated. But I’m definitely going to have to ‘practise’ for Christmas again soon and make more of these. I think we now have a new family tradition and ‘panettone three ways’ – plain, classico and chocolate – in individual sizes will be joining us at our present opening this coming Christmas Day. Classico for my son, daughter and me; chocolate for Lyndsey and Rachael; and I think little grandson Freddie (who will be 10 months by then) will love the little pandoro plain variety.
Many thanks to Waitrose for asking me to do this … and a very Merry Christmas to all!!!
For more great Christmas traditions ideas visit the Waitrose website: click here.