Now that the cookies are baked, I’m beginning to feel a bit more Christmasy. And I’ve been thinking I’d like to try Panettone. Panettone was never a Christmas tradition in our family, as it was with many of our neighbors during the holidays – my mother was more the fruitcake type, with an occasional stollen thrown in. I can remember – only vaguely – having an occasional taste of some god-awful stuff which purported to be Panettone, but frankly, it was not even as good as my mother’s really bad fruitcakes! But over the years, I began to realize that there was some really good Panettone out there, but it was always so expensive that I never got a chance to see how good!
But the other day I was perusing the latest Gourmet magazine, and I came across an article about Jim Lahey’s Panettone. Now, I really like this guy – he and I go back all the way to one of my major food epiphanies! Jim Lahey was the guy who talked up slow-rise, no-knead rustic bread so much to Mark Bittman, that Bittman did a bit on the subject in his NYT’s, “Minimalist” column in late 2006, and that article has become one of the NYT’s most popular web articles of all time! (Just in case you may have missed it, here it is ) The video is better than Bittman’s narrative, but then, he’s not the baker – Lahey is.
I mention all this because Lahey’s Panettone uses the same slow rise process that his famous bread did, and for the same important reason – fermentation! Lot’s of bakers are afraid of fermentation – cooks too – because they mistakenly think of fermentation as the initial stage of “rotting”, or at best, part of the process to make an alcoholic beverage. But fermentation is much more than that, and in the complex world of making bread, it is the controlled process of adding flavor to whatever it is you’re baking. It is often truthfully said that “bread is solid beer, and beer is liquid bread!”. So, here was a Panettone that promised even more flavor than usual, all due to the added fermentation, and with the same no-knead process – Truly, here was my invitation. And here’s my experience:
Since this project calls for a fermentation of 12-16 hours, you know going in that it’s a multi-day project. This fact has never given me a problem, as it apparently does many others – maybe because I have no interfering responsibilities anymore, and I forget what it was like. I put the dough together on my “old” KA stand mixer (I emphasize old because I’m proud to have an old KA, with a BIG motor!) – this is not something you want to do by hand (at least I don’t want to). I then put the dough into a bowl, covered it, and put it into a cold oven for the 12-15 hour rise that Lahey suggests – and I wait.
Early the next day, I opened the oven and pulled out the dough, but was very disappointed to see that it had not risen much at all. Hummm! What to do now? I re-read the recipe (have I ever mentioned how I dislike following recipes?) and couldn’t find any place where I missed anything – however, I did note that Lahey speaks of the dough being VERY wet, and in the pic in the mag, it sure looks wet! Then I remembered that when I was measuring the flour, I had tapped the big 3 cup measure I was using on the counter to level the flour – this is not a good idea, because it compacts the amount of flour you are measuring, and you wind up with more flour than you should have! Don’t ask why I did that, but I can blame Lahey because all “good” baker recipes (or formulas, as they call them) use weight instead of volume measurement – and he should have also.
So, how to proceed? Well, the down and dirty way would be to add some additional water, and maybe also a bit more yeast, just in case the old yeast had used itself up in a futile battle the night before. The more proper – and more laborious – way would be to re-adjust ALL ingredients in ratio to the added water – No, the latter is not my usual m o, so I added more water and more yeast, cut the dough into smaller chunks, and put it all back on the KA again. Ten minutes later, I pulled it off, slipped it into a greased grocery bag, and this time, I put it into the fridge instead of a cold oven. Why the fridge? Because if I had used the cold oven approach, bake time would have arrived at about midnight – not a time when I want to bake. But I know that dough in the fridge will rise equally well, but will require at least twice the time to do so, thereby pushing my scheduled bake time to sometime in the afternoon of the following day – a much better alternative. So, onto day three with our Panettone.
Ahh, much nicer result! When I pulled the dough out of the fridge on the morning of day three, it has puffed up significantly and gave promise of a rosier future. I moved it to the board and readied it for placement into my custom made Panettone mold. I didn’t have a legitimate Panettone mold, which always looked just like a three pound coffee can to me anyway, so I went looking for such a thing out in our garage – I was in luck! I didn’t find a clean coffee can, but I did find a new and sparkly 3 lb nut can – Great. Now I needed the paper liner for the inside of the metal mold – again, I ain’t gonna buy one, not when I have perfectly good baker’s parchment – so I measured and cut a circle for the bottom, and an internal sleeve for the sides, held in place by a paper clip. I’m sure the “purists” would sneer at my efforts, but I’ll bet mine tastes as good as theirs’!
So, into my custom mold went the dough, and into my custom “proofing” cabinet (my oven, with only the light on – it’s a perfect environment for proofing) for the required 3-5 hour final rise.
And since this post is getting way too long, I’ll break here and continue in the next post.