We had our friends, Tina and Rich over for Christmas dinner, and it went especially well – Safeway had a loss leader this year with boneless New York Strip roast – it was a dollar more per pound than the bone-in Prime Rib – Given that choice, I’ll take the New York Strip roast every time! A gorgeous hunk of meat. I covered it with Dijon mustard and a crust of garlic breadcrumbs with sage and olive oil – great idea, but as soon as we cut into the roast, the crust shattered – but we just gathered it up and gave everyone some – next time I’ll add a little latex. San and I love super rare beef, and our guests prefer theirs a bit more on the medium rare side – so they got the end cuts, and we enjoyed the redder middle.
Been a long time since I’ve remembered having such good beef – I had a huge piece, and I ate it all.
I was planning on taking a few pics of the roast, but after the crust shattered, I thought better of that idea. So instead, I’ll just show you San’s beautiful table setting.
But I really want to tell you about -and show you- this year’s Panettone. For the last several years, I’ve done Panettone each Christmas, and each year it gets better. Panettone is one of those breads that meets my ‘challenge bar’ – my attitude is that if I’m going to have the opportunity to experience some of the best breads in the world, I’m going to have to learn how to bake them. Panettone meets that definition in that it is challenging, but the result is so rewarding that you consider it all worth the pain and suffering.
My first ever Panettone was Jim Lahey’s version – it’s a good one for a novice, as it avoids some of the more difficult parts – and it was good; certainly worth the effort, but nothing to knock your socks off. It’s a yeasted version, not sourdough, and so will cut at least one day off your project. But for the last two years, I’ve used Susan’s sourdough Panettone (go here for the recipe), and it does make an all around better product that Lahey’s yeasted version – but it’s also more tedious and time consuming, and if you haven’t done much with sourdough, don’t even think about this one.
I did manage to make my project more challenging than it would have been by not going back to check my own notes of last year’s experience – had I thought to do that, I’d have seen that almost everyone who makes this Panettone acknowledges that the amount of water stated in the final dough is probably more than necessary. Now, to her credit, Susan notes a caution here in her recipe, and has you initially add only half the water, and then to assess the dough. But, for both times I’ve now made this, I sensed that even half the full amount of water is more than needed in the final dough. Next year, I’ll read my past notes, and start with 1/3rd the water!
Panettone is supposed to be a very soft dough – that’s what gives it the wonderful light, tender texture that all good Panettone has – so the baker should expect to have to deal with all the issues of working with a very wet dough. But if you find that you’ve added too much water, there are two ways to compensate -after the fact- neither of which is ideal, but regardless, they are effective. The first is to increase the time of the proofing which follows the build of the final dough – more time in the proofing tub (use an oiled tub, it makes the job easier), and more stretches and folds, will help to give the dough more stability. Additionally, once the proofing time is up, and you’ve moved the dough to a board or counter, instead of using a ‘buttered’ board, sprinkle some flour on it, and work a little bit of flour into your dough as you gently knead it – but I caution you about adding too much flour at this stage, only add enough to allow you to handle the dough for shaping and forming it into balls for your pans or molds.
I must be doing something right, because this year’s Panettone was my best effort to date – I did use Susan’s glaze this year, and I must agree with her that it is one of the elements that make this version superb. It creates a crisp, sugary crunch as you chew, but surprisingly, it does not shatter like the crust on my beef roast! I think the egg white in the glaze gives it the strength to hold together as you cut or bite the Panettone. Lovely stuff.
This was my first year using Panettone molds, but only because Joanna of Zeb Bakes in Britain was kind enough to send me a goodly bunch along with the Flori di Sicilia I had won in her recent contest – her graciousness has therefore allowed me to not only have the pleasure of a proper baking of these beautiful individual Panettones, but they also have the exact appropriate flavoring that an Italian baker would use to make them. Therefore I must thank Joanna for all the improvement in this year’s Panettone baking.
I wish I could share my Panettone with you all – god knows I’ve got enough – but I’ll bet you either have some of your own, or some other equally delicious goodies which MUST be eaten -certainly- before they stale. So, get to work! And don’t forget to catch a little rest along the way.