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Panettone is a speciality of Milan where bakers vie to make the tallest, lightest, most delicate butter-rich loaf. You can see them prettily wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbons in every good delicatessen. Sliced like a cake panettone makes an excellent breakfast treat at Christmas with a pot of special coffee, or as an alternative to Christmas cake; leftovers make the best-ever bread and butter pudding.
As the classic tall and cylindrical panettone moulds are hard to find you could try a large (900g) coffee tin or a 15cm deep round cake tin or soufflé case extended about 10cm upwards on the outside with a stiff foil collar, and on the inside with buttered baking parchment or greaseproof paper. Panettone gets its fine, cake-like crumb from several risings so set aside the best part of a day as you’ll be needed to punch down the risen dough when necessary. The real work of mixing and kneading can be done in a large free-standing mixer fitted with a dough hook.
If you use whole candied orange and lemon peel the flavour will be much more vivid than the ready chopped variety, and they only take a couple of minutes to chop up.
Mix about 120g of the flour with the dried yeast and the sugar in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Beat the 2 whole eggs with the water and pour in to the well. Mix in the flour to make a thick batter. Sprinkle the top with a little of the reserved flour to prevent a skin forming. Leave for about an hour until bubbly and light.
Add the egg yolks, vanilla and lemon zest to the bowl and mix in, then gradually work 175g of the remaining flour combined with the salt to make a soft and very sticky dough. Cut up the butter and add it to the bowl. Work it in by squeezing the dough through your fingers until the butter is thoroughly incorporated and there are no streaks. Turn out the dough on to a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes, working in the rest of the weighed flour, until very soft, satiny and pliable but not sticky. Return the dough to the bowl, slip the bowl into a large plastic bag and leave to rise at normal or slightly warm room temperature until almost doubled in size - this will take about 2 to 2 ½ hours.
Punch down the risen dough to deflate, leave it in the bowl and cover as before. Leave to rise again until doubled in size for about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Punch down the dough and turn out onto a floured work surface. Toss the sultanas and chopped peels with 1 teaspoon flour to prevent them sticking together in the dough. Sprinkle them over the dough and gently knead with lightly floured hands until they are evenly distributed, this will take 2 to 3 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball and drop it into the prepared tin. Using the tip of a long, sharp knife, cut a cross in the top of the dough. Cover lightly or slip the tin into a large plastic bag and leave to rise at normal to warm room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Towards the end of the rising time heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
To finish: melt all but 15g of the butter and use half to brush the top of the dough. Put the final 15g knob of butter in the centre of the cross then bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the loaf starts to colour then brush again with melted butter. Lower the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and bake for a further 30 to 40 minutes until a good golden brown and a skewer inserted in to the centre comes out clean. Remove the tin from the oven; the panettone will be fragile so stand it, still in the tin, on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes so the crust firms up. Gently unmould the loaf and place it on its side on the rack and leave to cool completely before slicing.
Makes 1 loaf
400g Marriage’s Finest Strong White Flour plus extra for dusting
1 x 7g sachet easyblend dried yeast
75g caster sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
The grated zest or 1 large unwaxed lemon
½ teaspoon salt
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
85g best quality sultanas
50g candied orange and lemon peel, finely chopped
About 40g unsalted butter for finishing
A panettone mould, greased or a 15cm deep round cake tin greased and lined with greased greaseproof paper and wrapped with foil around the outside.