Panettone! Panettone!

IMG_1990BSMbanner_baked-150There are definitely times when I, as a baker with decidedly perfectionist tendencies, need to step back, take a deep breath, and realize: things aren’t always going to be as beautiful as anticipated.  Even Martha Stewart must have had those days… and those several tries when she pulled her perfectly-coiffed hair and agonized that “it just wasn’t coming out RIGHT”.  This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings assignment – Chocolate-Chip Orange Panettone, a perfect treat for the Christmas holidays – presented one of those challenging times for me, not so much in the making but rather, during the baking – as you will see below.  This wasn’t altogether pleasant during a time when I typically take a baking hiatus, but the results – at first taste – were really not all that unpleasant either.

IMG_1995To begin with, I should state that, while I enjoy baking bread, I do not do it often enough to feel complete confidence in it.  I therefore hesitate to ever say I am a bread baker.  Panettone, for those of you who do not know, is a festive, slightly sweet bread studded with candied fruits, raisins, and/or nuts, which usually surfaces around the holidays – but probably more often in Italy, or among Italian families.  Renato Poliafito of Baked, being of Italian heritage, is a huge fan.  I myself have only eaten panettone a few times in my life and have not been a huge fan.  I don’t like citron or any of the candied fruits or nuts, and the texture has always leaned toward dry.  I was intrigued to tackle this recipe, however – a deep, dark, decadent chocolate panettone that (thankfully) isn’t too sweet, and swaps out the candied fruits and nuts (again, thankfully) for delicious homemade candied orange peel and chocolate chips.  Yum.

I won’t go into too much detail on the recipe; it involves yeast, rising dough, and the option of making your own candied orange peel – which I did – so you can imagine: it’s pretty involved for the amateur baker.  If you’re up to the challenge, the effort and payoff is pretty sweet.  A few tips I want to share about my experience with Baked’s recipe:

  • Paper panettone molds may seem hard to find, but they’re really not – and IMG_1984they’re relatively cheap.  You can easily mail order them through Amazon or get them at a Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table.  In a pinch, there are alternative ways of making a mold, including using a coffee can (see Baked Elements for some suggestions).  I loved how, as the dough rose within the paper mold, the houndstooth design on the exterior dissolved (from the grease in the dough) to reveal the pretty floral design hidden underneath.  Pretty cool.
  • The Baked Sunday Mornings link provided below does not include Baked’s candied orange peel recipe, but if you want to try it, I promise you, you will adore it.  It’s super-easy, and you’ll be delighted at how you made something so deliciously akin to a homemade Fruit Roll-Up.  Seriously.  Make extra, and roll strips in some granulated sugar for a fun holiday treat.  Shoot me an email or leave me a comment if you would like me to post the recipe.  I know it seems like a tad much to make your own candied peel, but it’s not hard and it’s worth it.
  • A lot of times, I am personally daunted by yeast bread recipes when it comes to ‘proofing’ the yeast.  This process is when you add a warm liquid – either water or milk – to activate the dry yeast and get it ‘going’, as it were, for your dough.  Usually, the liquid should be ‘lukewarm’.  Never fear – you are not alone if things like this strike the fear of God in you… I’m the same way.  It’s like I’m afraid I will actually kill the living creature that is the yeast if I add water or milk that is too hot, or even worse, not stir it into action at all by adding liquid that is too cold.  This time around, I consulted my boyfriend Jake, who is a bit more adept at bread-baking than I am, and he mentioned that the liquid should be at a temperature comfortable enough that you can test it with your finger and notice that it is almost be room temp; or at least slightly warm enough that the difference between air temp and liquid temp is hardly noticeable.  I attempted this with this dough (I microwaved the milk) and it seemed to do the trick.
  • You should probably know right away that your kitchen counter will be covered in flour and cocoa when making this.  After the first rise of your dough, you will add the risen ball of dough to a remaining batch of flour, cocoa and sugar, and instantly, once you turn on that mixer – get ready for the cloud to burst up from the bowl.  Suggestion: cover your mixer with a dish towel or your arms/hands to keep the flour from sloshing out of the bowl.  Your mixer will also endure quite a heavy workout with this recipe.  I’m fiercely protective of my precious Kitchen Aid mixer, and I made two of these panettone – once I was done mixing up the dough for both, I swear my Kitchen Aid was panting with exhaustion.  It’s a tough dough, and kneading the dough for upwards of almost 10 minutes (I don’t think I took it to the full 15 listed in the recipe) is tough on the motor, which leads me to believe this is best made in a more industrial machine.  Listen to your mixer’s motor.  If worse comes to worse, dump the dough out onto a lightly-floured board or surface and hand-knead the dough yourself.  Flatten the dough out into a rectangle, scatter on your orange peel and chocolate chips, and fold these ingredients in by hand to finish.
  • REALLY take seriously Baked’s note that when you are allowing the dough to rise for the second time in the panettone mold, you only let it rise to the topof the mold. Let it rise any further, and you will have a monster on your hands, like yours truly.  As you will seein the photo, my panettone practically exploded over the mold and over onto the sheet pan. Not very attractive – definitely not the pretty domed look you want for your panettone. This was my tragic mistake that I mention at the beginning of this blog – the error that had the perfectionist in me screaming, “Noooooo!!!!!”  I had this gorgeous, smooth dough to begin with… but apparently, yes, you can let the dough over-rise.  Silly me, thinking it didn’t matter how long you let it rise.  Oh yes.  Yes, it does.  So – keep an eye on your rising dough.  As soon as it begins to clear the top of that mold – maybe even just before – you best fire up that oven and get that baby in there.  I sawed off the over-risen section and simply nibbled away at chunks of it.  I also discovered that, because it’s a lighter density ingredient, all of my candied orange peel had migrated to this section in the baking (whomp whomp…) and there was scarcely any peel in the main panettone.  This was a tremendous bummer.

IMG_1987Perfectionist be damned… this panettone was actually pretty delicious, over-risen and all.  It may not win any beauty contests, but it’s definitely a bread you can tear into like a gluttonous savage (as you should do with all yummy holiday treats, right?) and enjoy as the pockets of chocolate burst in your mouth and you taste the chewy tang of the orange peel.  Pretty scrumptious.  The texture was just right; I liked the drier, crispier crunch of the outer crust and the softer, slightly moist, fibrous crumb inside.  It was barely dry at all – but be careful after cutting it not to leave it sitting out and exposed too long, as it can dry out fast.  While toasting this panettone presents a tempting prospect, it may be tricky in a standard toaster with the melty chocolate chips; oven toasting may be the best option if you want to attempt this.

In comparison to my fellow BSM bloggers, the photos of my panettone are pretty embarrassing, I gotta admit.  It also is not a very photogenic loaf of bread, honestly. However, as I have done with previous goof-ups (ahem… Brooksters), I didn’t want to be a baker ashamed or afraid of owning up when he’s made a mistake.  I know what to do the next time I make this recipe!

To try your own hand at a delicious panettone, follow this link:

Chocolate-Chip Orange Panettone

All of this being said… have a delightful Christmas, one and all.  Be merry.  Be bright.  And a Happy New Year too!  See you on the flip-side in 2014!

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