Making a traditional homemade Panettone using Sourdough is a source of great satisfaction. It is certainly not an easy cake to prepare because its dough is complicated and needs to retain many fats and fruits. Do not be discouraged, though, because with a little practice and following my recommendations, I am sure you will be able to prepare a delicious homemade Panettone.
In this article, we will see How to Make Panettone most traditionally. In particular, we will go thru:
- The Sourdough
- The First Dough
- The Second Dough
- Raisins & Candied Fruits
- Bulk Fermentation
The choice of flour is crucial for Panettone, Pandoro, and any other leavened products. Choosing a good flour will make the difference between a successful dough and one that can’t incorporate the fats of the recipe or handle the acidity of the Sourdough.
For a successful Panettone, I suggest using a “strong” flour, that is a flour having the following characteristics:
- An excellent capacity to absorb liquids
- A protein content between 14% -16%.
- Good stability during the long kneading process.
The W index represents an indicator of flour strength. We can distinguish a range of flours ranging from a weak flour (W between 180 -200) to an extremely strong one (W>400); the right flour for Panettone and big leavened products should have a W value around 360.
In many cases, it is now possible to find professional flours which have a second index: p/l. This value provides a measure of the extensibility of the dough and its ability to generate bigger or smaller alveoli. A p/l value of 0.50 -0.60 is ideal for making an excellent Panettone.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I USE A WRONG FLOUR?
In case you use too weak flour (such as all-purpose flour), the gluten mesh would be too weak. It would not be able to absorb the ingredients of the first dough, besides the fact that the Sourdough’s acidity during the fermentation would compromise the dough.
On the contrary, I do not recommend using flour too strong (W>400, such as Manitoba flour). Working with those flours will produce a rigid gluten mesh, which – although capable of absorbing the ingredients of the recipe – will allow a scarce alveolation and a reduced development during baking. Moreover, Panettone will tend to shrink in the ramekin once baked.
BEWARE OF A FLOUR THAT’S IS TOO OLD
There is often a tendency to “clean up” the pantry using flour that has been open for a long time. Although it is not a good practice from a hygienic point of view, this choice is risky in the preparation of Panettone. The flour can be contaminated by microorganisms commonly present in the environment and have an unbalanced enzymatic system.
There is no getting away from it; to make an excellent Christmas Panettone, Sourdough is the second fundamental ingredient for succeeding in the recipe.
Before being used, Sourdough must be fed daily to allow the development of yeasts and the correct balance of the global acidity between lactic and acetic acidities.
Once the Sourdough is appropriately balanced and healthy, we need to practice at least 2 refreshments before starting the recipe. Please refer to this page to correctly do it where I explain how to feed the Sourdough starter.
THE FIRST DOUGH
The first dough for Panettone with Sourdough is a lean dough that, once fermented, will act as the base for the second dough.
Here are some tips I recommend you to follow:
- Dissolve sugar in water at 30°C (86° F) to facilitate the formation of the gluten mesh and make sugar more available to the yeast.
- Use egg yolks at room temperature so as not to cool the dough. At the end of the process, the first dough should have a temperature of 27-28°C (80°F – 82°F), and every degree below 25°C will increase the dough’s maturation time by 3 hours.
- It is fundamental to work the flour with liquids before adding any other ingredient. This step is essential to obtain a gluten mesh capable of absorbing fats and withstanding the acidity produced by yeast fermentation.
- Using a stand mixer or a professional spiral mixer, I suggest you continuously monitor the dough temperature, avoiding it to rise over 27 -28°C (80°F -82°F). Consider that the average melting point of butter is about 30°C – 32°C (86°F – 89°F), and the excessive temperature of the dough would make it very difficult to incorporate the butter.
- The addition of butter should be done gradually, waiting for the previous dose to be completely absorbed before adding the next quantity. The function of fats in leavened doughs is aromatic. Still, they are essential to improve the extensibility of the dough, acting as a lubricant for the gluten mesh.
- Once ready, we can let ferment the dough at 24°C – 26°C (75°F – 78°F) for 12 to 14 hours, or until it triples its volume. A too high fermentation temperature, in fact, would promote the excessive development of lactic acid bacteria in the dough, creating problems in the following dough.
In general, a proven sequence of ingredients to obtain a good result is:
- Flour + Sugar Syrup + Yolks
- Yolks & water (remaining part of the recipe)
THE SECOND DOUGH
We will characterize the Panettone with the second dough, adding to the first dough a significant amount of fat, eggs, flavorings, and fruits (or chocolate).
The very first step of the preparation is the most critical. In this step, we knead the first dough already fermented with flour to strengthen and restructure the gluten mesh. The duration of this phase will be at least 15 minutes. This is often when many people fail in the preparation of Panettone due to the hurry in adding all the other ingredients.
Before going ahead with the preparation, I recommend testing the gluten mesh. For this, you can take a portion of dough and open it between your hands until it forms a thin but resistant film. If it tends to tear, then the dough is not yet ready.
Here is an excellent method to correctly make the second Panettone dough.
- First Dough (possibly cooled 1h at +4°C) + Flour: it is fundamental to knead the dough correctly for at least 15minutes
- Sugars (Sugar, Honey, and Aromatic Mix) are added in small doses to the dough.
- Cold egg yolks at +4°C dosed several times, waiting for them to be always well absorbed.
- Flavors and Salt
- Butter incorporated in small doses.
- Fruits (or Chocolate)
According to my experience, here are some advice that will help you to obtain a good result:
- Once ripe, let the first dough cool for 1h at +4°C (39°F) before proceeding with the second dough. This will facilitate the formation of the gluten mesh and slow down the fermentation activity of yeasts.
- Use cold egg yolks at +4°C to lower the temperature of the dough and facilitate the succeeding adding of fats.
- Creaming the soft butter with a stand mixer (with the shield) will help its insertion into the dough.
- Insert the butter in small steps, making sure the previous dose is absorbed, before inserting a new one
- Once the fruits have been incorporated, knead the dough for 1 to 2 minutes to not stress the glutenous mesh.
RAISINS & CANDIED FRUITS
The correct preparation of the fillings is crucial for the development of the Panettone. In this phase, we have to pay attention not to insert too much sugar in the dough (which could unbalance the recipe) or elements harmful to yeast (as for raisins).
If you use candied fruits preserved in syrup, you will need to drain them thoroughly before adding them to the dough, not unbalance the recipe. For this reason, I suggest you weigh the candied fruits and let them drip in a colander for at least 12 hours.
On the other hand, Raisins are a “dry” ingredient that needs to be washed and regenerated before use. Because of its preservation process, it is common to find dust, sulfur dioxide, and paraffin (used to polish berries) in the product. Therefore, it will be necessary to rinse the raisins 2-3 times in warm water at 50°C (122°F), adding a small quantity of grain alcohol. After that, you can let the raisin in warm water at 25°C (77°F) for about 1h.
Once regenerated, drain the raisins for few minutes, pour into a baking pan, forming a thin layer, and let rehydrate for 12 hours. This step is essential if you want to obtain a soft and tender raisin, however dry.
During this step, proteins in the dough will continue to hydrate, and gluten will relax, facilitating the next proofing phase. The duration of the bulk fermentation is variable according to the kneading machine used: kneading with a spiral kneading machine or a stand mixer will make the gluten structured and elastic and will need, therefore, a shorter time of rest compared to a dough made with a plunging arms machine or a fork, where the mechanical action is less intense. Commonly, I recommend letting the dough rise for 1 hour at 30°C, 86°F.
PROOFING IN THE RAMEKINS
During the proofing, the dough develops carbon dioxide, causing its rise to the top of the ramekin. The proofing temperature strongly influences its structure:
A temperature around 30°C (86°F) accelerates the process but will tend to acidify the dough, consuming a considerable amount of sugars. As a result, the Panettone will be less sweet once baked and with very large and irregular alveoli.
Proofing the dough at room temperature will instead favor the sweeter taste – as leavening will happen more slowly -but you will get a smaller alveolation.
In my experience, a temperature of 27°C – 28°C (80°F – 82°F) is an excellent compromise to accord time and quality of the baked product.
Personally, I often use the technique of proofing at room temperature (20°C, 68°F), expecting about 15 hours of rising. I find that the overall flavor of the Panettone is richer and tastier once it is baked.
For good cooking of the Panettone, it is necessary to put the cake in the oven at a temperature of 150°C (302°F), gradually increasing the temperature up to 175°C (347°F). A static oven is better than the one with a fan. It guarantees a better development of the product; if you cannot adjust the power of the ventilation, you can shield the air with a pan to decrease its strength.
During baking, it is essential to let the steam produce inside the oven to favor the development of the Panettone. However, slightly open the oven door during the last 10 minutes of baking to let the steam escape and the cake dry.
The Panettone is cooked when the core temperature is 92°C (203°F). It is important to respect this temperature because an undercooked Panettone will develop mold inside within few weeks.
Being a cake very rich in fat, once it comes out of the oven, the Panettone should be skewered with the appropriate pins and placed upside down for at least 12 hours. This step is essential to stabilize the structure of the Panettone, avoiding falling in the center.
Accurately packaging Panettone is essential for its excellent preservation. The lactic acidity of Sourdough is, in fact, the basis of its natural preservation, hindering the proliferation of mold and bacteria. However, suppose the packaging is not done correctly. In that case, it will be very likely that the Panettone will dry quickly or develop mold.
To correctly package the Panettone, I suggest using plastic bags for food, gently sprayed with 95° grain-alcohol to reduce bacterial contamination, just before introducing the cake. Once packaged, the bag must be carefully closed with elastic or metallic bands and placed away from light. If well packed, the Panettone will keep for 3 months without any problem.
Preparing artisan Italian Panettone at home is undoubtedly a difficult challenge, but not impossible. It is crucial to understand the role of ingredients and to know how to read the common signs that the dough naturally shows during its preparation. Starting with quality ingredients – especially for flour – and a good sourdough starter is the basis of a great result… Finally, practice and a bit of experience will do the rest! Do not get discouraged if the first results will not be up to your expectations. Instead, try to understand what went wrong to improve the next try.