Happy Holidays, friends! I hope you’re enjoying warm company, relaxy times, and lots of yummy treats this week. 🙂
The thing I love most about baking, besides cramming delicious foodstuffs in my cake hole (duhhh), is that it never ceases to amaze me. There is never an end to the learning and trying and tweaking and surprising. The sweetest successes are the ones that were maybe a little unexpected, especially when all seemed lost. Case in point: this Chocolate Chip-Orange Panettone. Baked Sunday Mornings is making Classic Sugar Cookies from BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking this week; however, I have tried this cookie recipe 3 times, each time making small adjustments to improve it, and no matter what, the cookies spread out and end up too thin and crisp. I have found that they do not hold their shape when using cookie cutters, and that just makes me sad. (I recently needed a quick sugar cookie recipe to make with kids, and Smitten Kitchen‘s Unfussy Sugar Cookies is DOPE. That’s now officially my go-to sugar cookie recipe– they are quick to make, keep their shape, and are super tasty, so they check all the sugar cookie boxes for me. The end.) Which brings me back to panettone. The group made this recipe from Baked Elements back in 2013, and I was precisely 0% interested in panettone at the time. I had only one idea of what “panettone” could be, and even though this one didn’t contain any of the unappetizing nuts and candied fruit of the traditional variety, I was simply in no mood to give panettone a chance. That was also before my Italian dessert education, and now I want to know about allll the Italian things, so I decided that I was going to give this Christmas recipe a whirl finally.
Another reason I was intrigued to try panettone for the first time is the local San Francisco phenomenon that is From Roy. Roy Shvartzapel became utterly obsessed with panettone and elevated it in the U.S. to something magical and unprecedented. I was fortunate to try his chocolate chip one as a dessert dish at Del Popolo in SF a couple of months ago; the texture was feathery light and buttery rich at the same, paired perfectly with ice cream. A perfect panettone should look like this– filled with airy, vertical holes and studded with its fillings. That was a hell of a special pastry. This version is… not that. Let’s be clear; homemade panettone is nothing like Roy’s, which requires intimate knowledge of a painstaking production process. However, it is leaps and bounds better than what you might expect based on previous exposure to the mass-produced kind. It is laced with chocolate chips and candied orange peel, the latter of which we are instructed to make from scratch. I always keep some from Italy in my pantry, so it’s not something I bother making. (Candied orange peel is pretty difficult to find here, and most of what is available is weird sugary/syrupy plastic-like bits, in which case I certainly would make it at home.)
I’ve said before that I do not have a natural feel for bread dough. Give me the cakes, cookies, and brownies, but dough is not my forté. Not shockingly, it took me 3 tries to get a usable dough. I almost gave up after the second attempt, as I’d have to go back to the supermarket for more oranges, and I’m so glad I stuck with it! The first time, I overheated the milk for the yeast mixture, and even though I let it cool to the correct temperature window (100-110°F) before adding it to the yeast and flour, the yeast did not properly activate.
The second time, I made the dough correctly (not sure why I tried to heat the milk in a saucepan rather than the microwave in the first place) and added it to a sifted mixture of bread flour, cocoa powder, salt, and sugar in the stand mixer. This is supposed to be mixed to a “shaggy” consistency, which ended up being a lot of little bits of dough– probably not the intention. I was worried that I’d already wrecked it, but I continued anyway by adding 3 eggs and 2 yolks, a healthy dose of orange zest, and vanilla bean paste. This resulted in a thick, somewhat sticky-looking mixture, which I was supposed to beat until it “comes together and has a distinct shiny appearance”. After the prescribed 4-5 minutes, it hadn’t come together into any sort of a cohesive dough– it still looked like a batter. It was shiny, so I decided to mix it a little longer (no change) and then continue on with switching to the dough hook and adding the softened butter. Unfortunately, besides thickening further, the dough still wasn’t really dough after 15 minutes of mixing. At this point, it was supposed to be elastic and smooth, which was not at all the state of things. I didn’t want to waste my chocolate chips and especially not my Italian candied orange peel, and I wasn’t sure how to troubleshoot, so I pulled the plug. I was definitely bummed at this point…
So my choices were to not make panettone, or put pants on and go to the store for more oranges (for the zest). Fortunately I chose the latter! Trouble was, I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. My best guess was that I’d over-beaten the yeast dough/flour/cocoa beyond the point of “shaggy”, but I didn’t really know. I did everything the same, except mixed it at that stage a little less, which meant I had more loose flour left in the bowl when I added the eggs, zest, and vanilla. And yet… it turned out exactly the same. I was soooo frustrated, as I just didn’t have the dough intuition to know where to go with it. But! Then I thought back to a couple of years ago when I was making tons of babka dough (the one dough recipe that I did get pretty comfortable with). When that dough was a little sticky, I just added a little extra flour. So I tried that here… tablespoon after tablespoon and tablespoon. I kept thinking I was making progress toward an actual dough, but it kept getting sticky again. At some point I lost track of how much I was adding, my annoyance level growing at a commensurate level– maybe ½ cup? More? I really can’t say for sure, but what I *can* say is that finally (finally!!) the dough cleared the sides of the bowl enough to call it a piece of dough! I was pretty shocked at that point that it had worked. (Also a little shocked that the recipe didn’t mention to add extra flour if the dough didn’t come together initially.) The last step in the mixer is adding chocolate chips and candied orange peel, and then I turned it out and kneaded it with my hands with a little more flour to truly pull into a ball and evenly distribute the chips and peel. The very last step is to form the dough into a small, thick square, then tuck the four corners tightly underneath to form a rounded dome on top. This gets carefully placed into a greased 6″ paper panettone mold (which I was luckily able to find at my local baking supply shop) to rise for a couple of hours.
We are instructed to let the dough double, rising *only* to the top of the paper mold and not beyond, which happened in precisely 2 hours. I baked the panettone for 50 minutes, the bottom of the recommended baking window. When I checked the temperature at 45 minutes, it was around 132°F, so I figured I had a ways to go before the target 175-180°F range, but when I checked again 5 minutes later, it had soared to 183°F. I quickly pulled it out of the oven, its domed top quite dark– I hoped that I hadn’t over-baked it!
Nevertheless, the panettone looked great! It had properly and evenly risen and smelled fantastically chocolaty. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I cut into it– would it be dry? underdone? dense? To my joyful surprise, it was beautiful! The light cocoa hue of the bready interior was evenly studded with melty chocolate and fragrant orange bits, and tasted of both. I was sooo pleased, to say the least! The one thing I’d like to improve is the texture– it was a bit crumbly for a bread, though certainly it wasn’t a cakelike or anything. It was also a touch dry on the outer parts, which probably could’ve been avoided by taking it out of the oven a little sooner.
All in all, I was totally thrilled with my Italian Christmas bread. As I was slogging through it, I kept thinking there is no way I’d bother making this again, but after seeing the magic that came out of the oven after simply adding a little extra flour, I absolutely would make it in the future– it’s a matter of learning how to understand the dough. Besides its shape, this panettone is nothing like the tacky boxed versions that none of us want to eat.
If you too are curious about a better panettone, try this Chocolate Chip-Orange Panettone recipe, which you can find at Baked Sunday Mornings. Also check out my fellow bakers’ loaves while you’re there! Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones– I hope 2019 has treated you well! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2019.