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Panettone, Italian Christmas Bread

Panettone, Italian Christmas Bread

Panettone, a classic Italian Christmas Cake

My father would bring home at least two or three brightly colored boxes -the color blue dominated – inside a delicious, rounded mound of a cake-like, light and spongy mixture wrapped in a clear plastic bag. We would eat it before, during and after Christmas day, New Year’s and Epiphany (January 6). One thing I did not like about Panettone was the candied fruit, but I had no trouble taking the little hard pieces of fruit off the light dough.

Of course we never baked Panettone at home. I don’t think I ever saw a recipe for it! There were bakers in Milan and then in other cities who made them and sent them all over Italy! Many different variations of Panettone gradually sprung up all over the country making the simple, light cake more refined and much richer or sweeter.

I was happy to find a recipe in the 1980 edition of the Sunset Cook Book of Breads for Panettone, which reminded me of the original version that I have baked for years for our family and close friends. The outcome of this recipe does not taste exactly like the boxed Panettone found in speciality stores here in the United States, but it has the advantage of being genuine and delicious if eaten within 48 hours! Moreover, I had the choice of not putting the candied fruit suggested in the recipe! This recipe has retained the cake-like and moderately sweet character of the original Panettone!

The Recipe:

Ingredients (you can increase them by 1½ or even double them, and the results are still good):

  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup (¼ lb) butter or margarine, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 teaspoon each of anise seed and anise extract (optional): (vanilla extract is also good)
  • ¼ cup each pine nuts, raisins and coarsely chopped, mixed candied fruit (your choice!)
  • 2 2/3; cups all-purpose flour (sift before measuring) (here I put ½ white and ½ whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1 cup milk

In a large bowl beat egg, egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale yellow. Beat in butter; then add lemon peel, anise, nuts, etc.. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the milk, add remaining ingredients and mix well. Blend thoroughly. Grease well your small, or medium-large coffee cans, (be sure to remove the label!) dust them with flour and spoon in the batter so as to fill just half the cans. Bake in a 325 oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how big your cans are. Cool off before sliding slowly the little long cakes out of the cans. Cut in wedges and serve.

Buone Feste!

– Paola