It's Not Christmas Without Panettone!
Panettone has its origins in 15th century Milan. It is synonymous in Italy with Christmas. The recent popularity of Panettone has elevated peoples’ awareness and appreciation of this cake-like bread. It is referred to as the “Mountaintop of baking” due to the complexity of the development of the fermentation as well as the challenge of mixing and rising the dough with high amounts of fat and sugar. The bread also has to be hung upside down after it comes out of the oven or the delicate cake-like structure will collapse. There are some places in Italy where it takes 10 years of training for a staff member to make it correctly. This is serious business.
It takes years of practice to feel confident in making this special bread. I have heard it said that Panettone is not a recipe; it is a lifestyle. I can relate to this statement to some degree. From the moment I give life to my special Italian sourdough culture this year, affectionately named Sofia, I nurture and feed her two times a day until I finish Panettone production at Christmas. This is an 8 week commitment. The commitment resumes for me during the Easter Season when I begin making a similar Italian Holiday bread called Columba di Pasqua.
The interesting thing about caring for a sourdough culture is that when I mix, I try to keep a positive attitude and think happy thoughts. Fermentation is life and the energy you put into it is the energy you get out of it. I have experienced this many times with the bread I make and particularly the Panettone. When I am happy, my bread shows it. When I am out of sorts, my bread shows that too. With Panettone, you need an extra level of attention, focus, and care. You need to read the dough at each step of the way as you build up the fermentation and strength.
The same applies during mixing; the ingredients are carefully added and the dough tells you when it is ready to receive the next ingredient. It is very fascinating. Even after over 20 years of making Panettone, I still hold my breath and say a little prayer as I carefully make each batch. It is the greatest pleasure to develop a beautifully mixed silky dough, ferment it, divide it, shape it, proof it, put the toppings on it, and watch it rise to its glory in the oven. Then when the dough is baked, carefully remove from the oven and hang each one upside down to cool and stretch the light and fluffy crumb. Needless to say, the aroma in the bakery is amazing. For us, it smells like Christmas.
Once the bread is cooled, our Panettone is placed in special mopelfan bags which helps to preserve the bread for weeks and months. We put our signature wrapping and bows on it and then it is ready for the customers to take home and enjoy. I love a cup of tea and a slice, but the best is with a glass of Champagne or Prosecco as the Italians do.
Now I must dash off and feed my very special Italian sourdough culture Sofia, as she is feeling hungry.