One of the better things about being old -and there are damn few- is that time moves faster and faster every year. A few days ago was Thanksgiving, and Christmas is due in only a few more. This bothers some old people, but not me – I think if time slowed down anymore for me, I’d be bored out of my mind, and I’d have much too much time to think about things too much – this is always bad!
Still, I can’t help feeling that the holidays are moving especially fast this year. I’m the Christmas curmudgeon type, but when the only music one hears is Christmas music, and one’s home begins looking like the area shopping mall (Sandee, my wife, turns into an elf), it’s hard not to be unconsciously drawn into the spirit of the season – kicking and bitching all the way.
It’s usually the foods of the season that finally push me over the edge – and I generally begin my holiday baking a bit earlier than I have this year – but Sandee’s not helping this year, since she is intent on losing some of herself, and has sworn off the usual holiday goodies I normally flood the house with. So, this year – except for the gifts of food which I bake – our Christmas baking has been limited – I’ve only managed to do a bit of panettone, and later today I’ll tackle a batch of almond shortbread cookies. And who knows where my inspiration will take me from there.
I need to tell you about the panettone experience, since besides being fun, it was interesting – and of course, delicious.
After some usual and customary research, I decided to use Susan’s (Wild Yeast blog) recipe for panettone – my decision was made easier by the fact that I’ve had good experience using other of Susan’s recipes, (and, like me, she loves using sourdough) and I know she’s meticulous in her layout of instruction – and, let’s face it, panettone is one of those experiences you shouldn’t wing.
Now, my friends, I’m a winger! And I love nothing better than to cook or bake something without reference to a recipe – however, even I know when to hang that approach up, and tread lightly and cautiously – and Panettone is one of those times.
But I’m also a cheap SOB, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to run out and purchase those cute decorated panettone paper forms for this – no, the challenge is too great – how much greater the feeling of satisfaction when you bite into the ethereal goodness at last, to not only know that you got the taste right, but that you did it without spending extra on cutsie accoutrements! Oh yes – all the greater satisfaction!
In fact, something has been working at my “baking craw” for a good long time now – Why does panettone have to have that strange shape anyway? Why can’t one bake panettone in smaller, individual molds, or even in a muffin tin? By god, I’m going to find out.
OK – I printed out Susan’s panettone recipe, and began - it’s one of those “multi-day” affairs, where you have to build the starter first, and then the dough itself – this is a low acid starter (to work with sweet dough), requiring multiple 4 hour feedings @ 85F degrees. Some would think, “Pain in the ass” – but even lazy me knows that this is exactly the kind of thing which separates the good baker from the excellent baker, and that if you’re willing to follow the process, you will join the few who have had the ultimate experience of tasting something superb. And – what the hell – I’ve got the time!
I noticed that Susan’s panettone was simplistic in that it only had candied orange and lemon rind, and raisins, and I immediately decided to make my own candied orange and lemon. Here’s a simple, straightforward recipe – and you may want to make more than you’d need for the panettone, since this is simple candy at its healthiest, and it’d be a great addition to your gifts of Christmas cookies (try dipping some in melted dark chocolate). I also saved the syrup afterward (I had to thin it a little) to use later for glazing and sweetening needs – it has a beautiful orange/lemon flavor, and a nice orange tint. Just keep your simmer as low as you can, and ignore those “commenters” on the recipe site that advise cutting off the pith – the pith adds a needed bitter edge to the rind – if you hate “bitter”, just blanch it an additional time (but I think you’ll blanch the flavor right out!).
The only note I’d add to Susan’s recipe is that I found that the amount of water stated in the final dough was way too much! She does caution to add the water slowly, and to use only enough to achieve a “very soft” dough. Here’s what I can add to that – I used a high gluten bread flour (Pendleton Power) which absorbs more water than all purpose flour (read all the comments following the recipe), and I still only used half of the water called for. And I noticed that even at medium speed on the KA (with the paddle), the dough just barely cleared (but not “cleaned”) the bowl. At first, I thought maybe it was too wet, but after proofing, and turning/stretching several times, the dough was fine, and easy to work with. I did allow the proofing to go to 2 hours, with 3-4 folds, as I knew that if the dough was too wet, additional proofing would give it more stability.
Now came the time to “pan” the dough – and since I had decided to make individual panettone, I pulled out two muffin tins. Potential problems to consider: avoiding sticking dough; avoiding expanding dough; and avoiding over or under final proofing. The use of muffin tins means we won’t be able to use a paper collar, because neither of my tins have straight sides – so I made small balls of dough (about 1/3 full) for each cup – and since this dough will rise very well, we don’t want to put too much dough in each cup or it’ll expand sideways as it grows over the top of the cup. An additional problem is that this is a fragile and sweet dough, and very likely to stick to the tins – I gambled here and simply gave each cup a liberal amount of butter, and left it at that. This proved to be enough, as each individual panettone came out easily.
For the final proofing, I choose an overnight, refrigerated proof. This extended the time frame as stated in Susan’s recipe by several hours, but since I didn’t feel like staying up until midnight to bake, I took a chance on the extended proofing – no problem! I also choose not to use Susan’s glaze, and only used a sprinkling of course raw sugar on the top prior to baking. I baked at 350F for 25 minutes, at which time one tin was done fine, but the other required an additional 5 minutes for proper browning.
How did these turn out? I can’t compare them to a traditionally sized and shaped panettone, since I didn’t bake one in this batch – but I loved how these tasted, even if they were not as dramatic looking as a traditional panettone – the tender dough resulted in a light, buttery crumb, with a crispy, sugary top – the flavors were rich and full, and each bite only invited another. It was all too easy to finish one off.
I have now had one warm and fresh from the oven -and it was delightful. And I have had one sliced and toasted, after being thawed from the freezer on day two -good, but not as delightful as was one fresh from the oven. In the future, I’ll be re-crisping these in the oven before eating – but frankly, however you choose to serve these, they will please and delight – as they should!