A Christmas Chocolate Panettone
by eat in my kitchen
We always had at least one huge panettone under our Christmas tree and I used to be more fascinated by the packaging than the bread. I love the dramatic Italian way of wrapping everything in long bows and sparkling glossy boxes in candy colours. My style is so minimal throughout the year, that at Christmas time, I enjoy indulging myself in a little kitsch and opulence, too much is just right at this time! Although I used to enjoy the wrapping so much, the content of the boxes couldn’t always keep up with my expectations, the panettone was often too sweet, too dry or so light and airy that it felt (and tasted) artificial.
When I decided to bake my own panettone this week, for the first time in life, I got more and more intimidated the more I read about it. So often it’s described as a moody and difficult bread and some bakers had to bake hundreds before they found the right formula! I didn’t have that much time, and I’m quite impatient, so I started studying. I feel that a good panettone resembles a French brioche in some details, the richness and colour, the flowery taste, the reserved sweetness. The Italian bread is just not as soft on the outside and a bit more airy and fluffy inside. So what makes a good brioche? Lots of egg yolks and butter! That was my starting point. Although the most popular panettone feature raisins and candied peel, I went for lots of bittersweet chocolate chunks and orange zest and that was a good choice. When the bread was in the oven, a spontaneous guest came over and said, “it smells like Italy, like real panettone!” That relaxed me a bit, at least I had the right smell in the house!
The preparation of the panettone dough takes some time, it has to rise twice, 90 minutes for the first time and 60 minutes when it’s already in the form. I made it with dry yeast and let it process in the warm oven at 35°C / 95°F. I follow this technique with all of my yeast based doughs and it works wonders. It rises so much quicker and better. You could also use your heater but I find that the oven works best. I didn’t buy a special panettone form, I just used a normal cooking pot lined with buttered parchment paper which I let come up high enough for the bread to bake in the shape of a cylinder. The baking paper went up 20cm ( 8″) which was a bit too high, I could have cut it shorter for the dough to rise above the rim like a mushroom, next time… A panettone is quite dark on the outside but it’s important that it doesn’t burn. At one point the top has to be covered with aluminum foil and the temperature changes, from 200°C (390°F) to 180°C (355°F) and then to 160°C (320°F) for the last 10 minutes. I took the bread out of the oven after 40 minutes to check if it was done and gently knocked on it’s underside (it’s quite fiddly to do as it’s very hot and fragile), but it needed some more time on a lower temperature for the centre to cook through.
When you bake a bread for the first time, you can just follow your nose, your ears and fingers when you knock on it, it’s exciting and, in the case of this bread, it made me a bit nervous. It had to wait until the next day to cut and try it as I wanted the chocolate to harden first. So the next morning, we held a little ceremony at the table, I solemnly cut the slices of my first Christmas panettone! The center was cooked through and still juicy, so the baking time and temperature was right, I felt relieved! The bread was fluffy but rich and it tasted like a Mediterranean Christmas, this was all I hoped for. The flowery aroma of the oranges combined wonderfully with the bittersweet chocolate. I spread a bit of butter on top and enjoyed my work in peace. Happy Advent!
For 1 panettone (18cm / 7″) you need
plain flour 500g / 1 pound
(I used white spelt flour type 630)
dry yeast 2 sachets (each 7g / 0.25 ounce)
sugar 100g / 3.5 ounces
salt 1/2 teaspoon
a pinch of nutmeg
zest of 1 orange (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
organic egg yolks 5
butter, melted, 170g / 6 ounces
milk 220ml / 1 cup
bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped, 100g / 3.5 ounces
almonds 4, for the topping
heavy cream 4 teaspoons, to brush the top
icing sugar, for the topping
Mix the melted butter with the milk and egg yolks, the mixture should be lukewarm.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, sugar, salt and nutmeg) and orange zest. Add the milk/ butter/ egg mixture and mix with the dough hooks for about 5 minutes or until well combined. Knead with your hands for about 1 minute, it should be soft and glossy. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a tea towel and let it rise in a 35°C / 95°F warm oven ( top / bottom heat, no fan!) for about 90 minutes or until doubled in size. While the dough is rising, put the chocolate in a plastic container and keep it in the freezer.
Butter the inside of an 18cm / 7″ cooking pot (about 10cm / 4″ high). Cut a 15cm / 6″ wide strip of parchment paper, long enough to be wrapped around the inside of the pot with both ends overlapping generously. Butter the parchment paper on one side. Line the sides of the pot with the parchment paper (the butter side should be facing inwards). Push the overlapping ends of parchment paper together.
Punch the dough down and take it out of the bowl, give it a quick knead and mix in the cold chocolate with your hands. Form a ball and put it into the prepared pot. Carefully cover it with a light tea towel (on top of the parchment paper) and let the dough rise in the warm oven for another 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
Take the pot out and set the oven to 200°C / 390°F, fan-assisted oven (210°C / 410°F top/ bottom heat).
Brush the top of the dough with the cream and cut a cross into the surface with a sharp kitchen knife. Decorate with the almonds. Bake the panettone for 10 minutes and turn the temperature down to 180°C / 355°F (190°C / 375°F top/ bottom heat). Bake for 20 minutes, cover the top with a piece of aluminum foil if the top gets too dark, and bake for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 160°C / 320°F (170°C / 340°F top/ bottom heat) and bake for another 10 minutes. If you use top / bottom heat bake for another 5-10 minutes. Carefully take the pot out of the oven (it will be very hot!) and let the panettone cool in the pot for at least 30 minutes or until it’s stabile enough to cool on a wire rack. When it’s completely cool, dust with icing sugar.