Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Story of Panettone

I love urban legends, but before Christmas I just thrive on finding history behind things I adore. As I started planning our baking project for Christmas this year with my nieces I came across delightful fruit bread, "Panettone". ( I had it before but never dared to bake the home made version.) It is traditional bread from Milan in Italy and is very popular also as a present during Christmas time.

I have to say baking it is not for the faint hearted as it takes some long hours and manpower to get the textures right still it worth every minute and effort, the taste is unbelievably gorgeous. The girls also enjoyed massaging the dough and we took turns which made it all easier. As we were ready and enjoying our days work I couldn't stop thinking about if there is anything more to this heavenly cake. I made my research and found a lot of reference and a true love story!!!

The origin of the name "Panettone" comes from a Milanese baker named Toni his creation called "Pan De Toni" ("Toni's Bread") is now well-spread throughout Italy and the rest of the world, and much loved by everybody.

Here is the whole story:

Once, in a little village in the hills above Milan, there was a baker named Antonio and a very good baker he was too. He made bread for all the people in the village. Good coarse country bread that kept the villagers from going hungry when they worked in the fields, ploughing and tending the grapes.

Now the baker was a widower and he had one daughter a beautiful girl, but spoilt. Because her father was so very fond of her, he wouldn’t let her do any work. Not in the bakery or anywhere else. He wouldn’t even allow her to help with the housework. All poor Seraphina had to do each day was sit in her window and watch the world go by.

She spent most of her time looking out into the street and the market square - and eating sweets! So she wasn’t only spoilt and bored, if truth were told, she was getting sadly fat!

One day in November, not long before Christmas, there was great excitement as a group of young huntsmen rode into the village looking for something to eat and drink. As Seraphina leaned out of her window, her eyes met those of one of the young men and 'pouf!' it was love at first sight!

Luckily it was love at first sight for the young man as well and he gave her a big wink! He then sat down to talk to the old ladies who are always to be found in Italian village squares. He wanted to find out about the lovely lady in the window. They in their turn were eager to know who he was. It turned out the young man was called Angelo. He was the son of the Duke of Milan and a very important person. Between them, Angelo and the old ladies hatched a plot so that Seraphina and Angelo could meet.

Angelo called for ink and paper and wrote two letters, one to Antonio and one to his daughter Seraphina. This is what they said. To Seraphina he wrote,

"Dear Seraphina, I love you. Soon we will meet and I will hold you in my arms".

To Antonio he wrote,

"Dear Antonio, I like your bread. Please meet me at the Market Square after Mass tomorrow. I have a plan that will make you rich and famous!"

He asked the old ladies to deliver the letters. Next day they all met and Angelo told Antonio of his plan to set him up in a bakery in Milan and for him to marry Seraphina. Both Seraphina and Antonio thought that this was a good idea and the next day they left for Milan.

Once in Milan, Antonio and Seraphina spent the day going round the bakeries of the great city. They tasted Torte, Pane and Biscotti and found them delicious. The biscuits were sweet and crisp and the bread soft and white, and scattered with wonderful seeds.

While they walked and nibbled at the bread, Antonio became more and more sad. At the end of the day he went to Angelo and said, "I cannot make bread here, my bread is good bread but it is bread for the workers in the hills. Your friends would not buy my bread". "Oh", said Seraphina, "if only you could make bread as sweet and rich as these dried fruits and candies". "Yes", said Angelo, "and as rich and sweet as this punch fortified with eggs and milk and honey". "THAT’S IT!" said Antonio, "I'll make a bread that tastes like all of these things!". And soon Seraphina and her father departed back to their village with wagonloads of the biggest eggs the sweetest honey and the plumpest raisins and fruit.

All the next day Antonio experimented and muttered to himself in his bakery and at the end of the afternoon, he put all the dough into bowls to rise overnight. The next day he filled every baking tray and tin in the bakery with the dough. There was still some dough left over so he put what was left into clean flowerpots and baked it in them.

Soon the whole village was filled with the delicious smell of baking bread. Antonio, Seraphina and the people of the village, plus Angelo (who had ridden up from Milan), could hardly wait for the bread to be cool enough to be cut and tasted. At last Antonio took his first bite and everyone waited with bated breath, "YES!" he shouted, and soon everyone was munching and laughing. And then Angelo loaded up the cart and took what was left back to Milan.

Everyone in the village waited and within the week, a cartload of new supplies came up from Angelo with a note, "My friends loved your bread and please can you make lots more? Also, make it all in flowerpot shapes because my friends liked that best. Bring it to Milan as soon as possible and Seraphina and I will be married the next day".

As soon as he could, Antonio with Seraphina set off for Milan with lots of the new bread. As they approached the gates of the city, Antonio could hear the bells ringing and he thought it was because it was Christmas Eve, but as he came nearer, he could hear cheers and the people calling "Toni, Tonio we love your bread, 'Pane', Panne, Panettone".

And that’s why the Italians always eat Panettone, 'Toni’s Bread', at Christmas and why the best Panettone comes from Milan.

The recipe for my "Panettone" is absolutely wonderful, because the loaf you'll end up with is as good as or even better than the ones that you can buy. It's really incredible both taste- and texture-wise! I got the recipe from a Christmas magazine and made my alterations to suit me and you.



Makes 1 large loaf or 4-5 smaller loafs

  • 7g yeast (not dried!!!)
  • 400g strong white bread flour (well sifted)
  • 75g coarse caster sugar
  • 2 large free range eggs plus 2 egg yolks at room temperature
  • 7 tablespoons lukewarm milk
  • half teaspoon vanilla essence or 1 vanilla pod
  • finely grated zest of one unwaxed orange and one unwaxed lemon
  • half teaspoon salt
  • 175g softened unsalted butter
  • 75g sultanas washed
  • 100g sun-dried orange, lime and lemon ( if not available, candied), diced or finely chopped
  • (You can also use  sun-dried cranberries or sun-dried apricot to whiz it up but I prefer the original lemony flavor)
  • 40g unsalted butter to finish

Makes enough to fill a 15cm tall cake tin or Panettone mould. Or you can use smaller moulds for baking. If you don't own proper Panettone mould you can unused ceramic flowerpots they both work fine. I actually prefer the pots as they have a hole on the bottom which helps the air flow and makes it easier to bake the dough through

  • Mix the yeast with the milk and with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Make sure that the milk is not too hot. Leave for a while. It will start to rise really soon.
  • Mix 125g of the weighed flour with the yeast and sugar in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer (kitchen aid style) and make a well in the centre. Mix the two whole eggs with the water and pour into the well. Using your hands or a dough hook, mix the flour into the liquid to make a smooth thick batter. Sprinkled a little of the remaining weighed flour over the top of the batter to prevent a skin forming then leave in a warm place for around a "generous" hour or until the batter is very bubbly. If you work with hands make sure that you work in enough air into the dough. You have to work it through until the dough forms well and stops sticking onto the side. This is really hard work and takes a lot of time.
    Stir in the egg yolks, vanilla and grated zest using your hand or dough hook. Gradually work in 175g flour plus the salt to make a soft slightly sticky dough.
    Next add the softened butter and work in with your fingers or the dough hook on a slow speed. Beat until the butter is incorporated with no streaks. 
  • Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead thoroughly by hand for ten minutes (or use the dough hook for 3-4 minutes) working in the remainder of the weighed flour to make a satiny soft pliable non-sticky dough. Depending on the flour, you may not need it all or you may need a little more. 
  • Cover the bowl with  a clean tea towel and leave to rise at room temperature until doubled in size, probably 2 to 2.5 hours. Don’t leave in a very warm place as the butter will melt. 
  • Next uncover the dough and punch down to deflate. Cover again and let it double in size again.
  • Meanwhile combine the sultanas with the chopped peel. Stir in a teaspoon of flour to stop it clumping in the dough. 
  •  Prepare the tin by lining with parchment paper. The paper should extend 5cm higher than the height of the tin. 
  •  Punch down the risen dough again and turn onto a floured surface; sprinkle the fruit mixture on top and work into the dough gently until evenly distributed. 
  • Shape the dough into a ball or smaller balls and gently drop into the prepared tin. Cut a cross into the top. Lay a tea towel over the top of the tin(s) and leave for another hour or so until doubled in size again. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 200c / 400f / gas 6-5. When ready to bake, melt 15g of the butter for finishing and brush it over the risen dough. Put a knob of butter in the centre of the cross. Bake for 10 minutes or until just starting to color, then brush again with melted butter. Reduce the temperature to 180c / 350f / gas 4 and bake for a further 40 minutes until a good golden brown and a skewer inserted to the centre comes out clean. If you use smaller pots the baking takes half the time.
  • Remove from the oven and place the tin on a wire rack. Allow to cool for a 10-15 minutes before teasing it out of the tin. If your crust is fragile allow to cool further before removing from tin. Cool completely before slicing.
I know it might be a long procedure but still it is just something you have to make. And i hope you will enjoy making it in my way.

To decorate we did not want to over do it so we used a nicer type of parchment paper and red ribbons and all turned out just lovely. It got a lot of faves from friends and family.

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