Panettone (Italian Christmas Bread)

Soft, light, chewy, fruity and wonderfully fragrant, Panettone is Italy’s world famous sweet bread that is traditionally enjoyed for Christmas and New Year.  But you don’t have to limit yourself, with this traditional Panettone recipe you can enjoy this scrumptious treat all year long!

panettone recipe traditional authentic best

Panettone is synonymous with an Italian Christmas.  Indeed, the two have gone hand in hand for centuries and to deviate from the tradition would be unthinkable.  And so year after year Italian home bakers continue that tradition and for those who prefer the convenience of store-bought, Italian food manufacturers produce more than 7,100 tons of panettone each year – and only 10% of those are sold outside the country.  With a population of 16.5 million people in Italy that averages out to nearly 4.5 pounds of panettone per person (adult, child and infant) per year.  That’s A LOT of panettone!

What is Panettone?

Panettone is an Italian type of sweet bread loaf with sourdough-like properties usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year’s.

Panettone comes from the city of Milan in the Lombardy region of northern Italy.  Milanese bakers have proudly been making it for centuries and Milan continues to host an annual panettone baking competition to determine who will be crowned the Panettone King.

milan italy

Like German Stollen with it’s characteristic oval shape that’s tapered at each end and with a bump and ridge running along the top, Panettone likewise has a very unique look all to its own.  Baked in round paper molds, panettone is instantly recognizable by its tall, round stature and domed top.

There are many contemporary variations of Panettone that include things like chocolate, nuts or other dried fruits like pineapple, apricots and cherries.  This recipe is for a traditional Panettone which means the only additions to the vanilla-infused batter are raisins, candied lemon and orange peel and some lemon zest (and/or orange zest depending on your preference).  Though of course depending on how far back you trace its origins you won’t find candied citrus peel or yeast in the earliest known references dating back back to the Renaissance.

Traditional panettone is also not rum-flavored nor are the fruits soaked in rum.  The ingredients are basic, the flavors balanced, and the result absolutely scrumptious in its simplicity.

panettone recipe traditional authentic best

Panettone is an example of a dish that is shared across many different cultures, each having their own version of it.  Similar fruit cakes/breads can be found in the form of German Stollen, Welsh Bara Brith, Irish Barmbrack, English Fruit Cake or Christmas Pudding, French and German Kugelhopf/Gugehupf, Scottish Dundee Cake (recipes coming soon!), and there are many other examples.

Too often recipes will blend different traditions and styles together into one and so you end up losing the distinctness of each country’s unique version.  Just as one example, adding glacé cherries and other dried fruits to Scottish Dundee Cake, thus transforming it into something more like a traditional English fruit cake instead of the unique Scottish cake that it is.  Not that there’s anything wrong in doing that, it’s just that these unique varieties all start tasting kind of the same.  I prefer to make each country’s version the authentic way so that I can enjoy each particular culture’s own unique twist.

All this is to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with altering or adding other ingredients, but if what you’re looking for is a traditional Italian panettone, stick with these original ingredients.

panettone recipe traditional authentic best

How Do You Serve Panettone?

Panettone is cut vertically into wedge-shaped slices and traditionally served with hot beverages or a sweet wine.  In some areas of Italy it is served with sweetened mascarpone (crema di mascarpone) or zabaglione.  It’s also wonderful sliced, toasted and slathered with butter or served with a vanilla custard sauce or fruit sauce.  On a less traditional note, it’s also fabulous cubed and used for making a British-style pudding or trifle.

Traditionally Panettone is served on Christmas Day, on Santo Stefano (December 26th, a national holiday), on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  It’s enjoyed for breakfast, brunch, or after a main meal.

What Is a Panettone Mold?

To make panettone you’ll need a traditional paper panettone mold.  These are constructed of thick, sturdy paper with a smooth coating inside and are not meant to be reused.

This recipe uses a traditional 7.3″ x 4.25″ panettone mold.   These molds are made in Italy and are excellent quality.

panettone mold paper authentic traditional made in Italy

Traditional Panettone Recipe

*A Note About Candied Orange and Lemon Peel

Please, please, PLEASE do yourself a HUGE favor and leave the store-bought stuff on the shelf.  I am not exaggerating when I say that using homemade Candied Orange Peel and Candied Lemon Peel makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in the flavor of your panettone!  It’s easy to make and trust me, you’ll be SO happy you did!

candied orange peel candied lemon peel recipe

Equipped with your homemade candied citrus peel, you’re ready to make panettone!

Let’s get started!

To Prepare the Fruit Mixture: Place the raisins, candied lemon peel, candied orange peel, lemon and orange zest in a small bowl and pour 1/4 of hot water over them. Stir, cover and let soak for at least 2 hours or overnight. Drain any excess liquid before adding it to the panettone dough.

soaking dried fruits

For the Starter: Stir the yeast into the lukewarm water and let it sit for about 10 minutes until frothy. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment (if your bowl is too large for that small of quantity knead it by hand). Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture.

making the starter
Knead for 5 minutes if using the stand mixer and about 10 minutes if kneading by hand.

Shape the dough into a ball and put it in a very lightly greased bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in size. Punch it down, cover with plastic wrap again and refrigerate it overnight.

kneading the starter

The next day take it out and let it come to room temperature before proceeding (this will take about 2 hours). Let it rise until nearly doubled in size and then gently punch it down before adding it to the panettone batter.

letting the starter rise

To Prepare the Panettone: Place the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in the stand mixer and stir to combine. Attach the dough hook attachment. Add the egg yolks and milk.

adding flour sugar eggs

Mix it until it comes all comes together. Punch down the starter dough and add it to the stand mixer.

Knead the mixture for 5 minutes, regularly scraping down the sides.

combining ingredients

Add the softened butter, vanilla and honey and knead for another 10 minutes.  (Yes, that’s 10 minutes.)

The mixture should be totally smooth and elastic but not overly sticky.

adding butter and vanilla

Add the fruit mixture.

Knead the dough until the fruit is fully incorporated.

adding dried fruits

Scrape the dough down, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap.
Let it rise at room temperature until nearly tripled in size, about 3 hours.
letting dough rise

Gently punch down the dough.

Butter the panettone mold.

preparing mold

Form the dough into a ball and place it seam side down in the buttered panettone mold.

Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise for about another 2 hours or until doubled in size.  It should be risen to about 1 inch or so higher than the rim of the mold.

Towards the end of this final rise preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (325 if using convection) and place the rack in the lower third of the oven.

letting dough rise in mold

If you’d like a glossy finish on your panettone, lightly beat an egg in small bowl.

Brush the top of the panettone with this egg wash.

glazing with egg yolk
Use a very sharp knife (I use a razor blade) and score an “x” across the entire top of the panettone.
Place about a tablespoon chunk of butter in the center.
scoring the dough
Bake the panettone for 40-60 minutes (this will vary depending on the denseness of the dough) or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (if the top is browning too quickly place foil over it).  Be careful not to over-bake or the panettone will be very dry.
***Recommended:  For best accuracy and to prevent under or over-baking, use an instant read thermometer. The panettone is done when the internal temperature reaches between 190 and 195 degrees F.
baking panettone

Why Do I Need To Hang Panettone?

When the panettone comes out of the oven it will cave in on itself unless you prevent it.   So it is crucial to immediately hang it upside-down.  To do this stick two wooden skewers through the bottom of the panettone and hang it upside down in a large pot or somewhere where it is able to remain hanging upside down until it is cooled.
why you need to hang panettone
Your panettone is ready to eat!  See serving suggestions near the beginning of the post.
panettone recipe traditional authentic best
panettone recipe traditional authentic best

For more traditional Christmas treats be sure to try our:

Originally published on The Daring Gourmet November 12, 2019

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