For quite a few years, our family has had a tradition of making french toast on Christmas morning. For the longest time we made it with Challa because of it’s rich eggy flavor and wonderful texture – perfect for soaking up all that custardy goodness.
One year, though, we discovered the wonders of french toast made with panettone, and we’ve never looked back (at least on Christmas morning).
For about five years, I worked for Williams-Sonoma
, and believe you me, I took advantage of the discounts that their associates receive every chance I got. Oh, how I miss that discount.
Anyway, every year at Christmas, they would sell these huge tins of panettone chock-full of dried fruit and these lovely candied chestnuts. And every year I would hope and pray that there would be one left after they went on sale toward the end of the season (you see, they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 each, which was more than I was willing to pay for a loaf of bread – I don’t care how good it was). Luckily, most years I was able to score one, and I would proudly bring it home and make the best french toast you ever did taste.
It’s been quite a few years since I’ve worked at the old W-S, and I’ve managed to make do each year since with other brands of panettone, but the tradition has definitely continued.
A couple of years ago, my mother tried her hand at making panettone at home, and she was sorely disappointed with the results. It turned out dry and cakey, without the lovely light, moist crumb that you expect from good panettone. I’m not sure what recipe she used, so I can’t steer you clear of it, unfortunately.
This year, I decided to throw my own hat in the ring and make a go of it. I searched the internet for recipes, wanting to find a really good authentic version. Unfortunately, I found that most folks who claimed exceptional results were hesitant to share their secrets. There was one constant thread, though, that ran through most of the success stories, and that was using a sponge starter, biga or sourdough starter. Evidently, the most traditional versions are made this way in Italy, and the best results are achieved by doing so.
In my search, I came across this website
, which gave a cute little history of the bread, detailing the story of a protective father, a smitten suitor and a resulting famous loaf of bread that has lived on in infamy for centuries. Additionally, it gave a recipe. It seemed straightforward enough and it used a sponge starter, which appears to be the key to all good panettone.
A couple of people who’d written up their panettone adventures mentioned using Peter Reinhart’s
recipe from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice
. His starter uses buttermilk in place of water, which seemed like an intriguing idea to me. I’ve recently begun replacing the water in my bread recipes with the whey I have leftover from various cheese-making experiments. Since whey is similar to what buttermilk used
to be before it became the modified food-starch and carageenen-laden cultured skim milk you find in the grocery store these days, I thought it might work here.
And I was right.
prep time: 18-24 hours
bake time: 45 minutes
yields: 1 large loaf
1/2 Tablespoon dry yeast
1/4 cup warm whey (110 – 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup apple cider
1 Tablespoon honey or agave nectar
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm whey
(110 – 115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon vanilla
4-4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped candied citrus peel
- Begin by combining yeast, 1/4 cup of warm whey and 1/2 cup of flour in a container. Stir to combine thoroughly and let sit for at least 6 hours or overnight (mine sat for about 8 or 9 hours).
- Combine raisins, cranberries, apple cider and honey or agave nectar in a bowl and let soak while the starter is resting.
- After the 6-hour window has passed, drain the liquid from the fruit and press to remove as much moisture as possible. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the softened buttter, eggs, egg yolks, sugar, 1/4 cup warm whey and vanilla. Stir to thoroughly combine.
- Add the starter to the egg mixture and stir to combine
- Gradually add the flour, sifting one cup at the time into the bowl an stirring to combine before adding the next cup.
- Once last cup of flour has been added, you may have to mix by hand to incorporate.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead vigorously until the dough forms a smooth ball – about 10 minutes.
- Butter a large bowl, place the dough in there and turn to coat both sides with butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise for at least 6 hours (mine rose overnight, and actually over-rose the bowl I put it in – oops!).
- To make the panettone mold, I used an 8-inch cake pan with 2 1/2-sides, and made a tall collar out of parchment paper – the whole thing was probably 10-inches tall by the time I got done with it.
- Butter/spray your panettone mold thoroughly
- Punch down the risen dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
- Shape the dough into a rectangle and sprinkle the raisins, cranberries and candied citrus over the surface.
- Fold the dough in thirds, covering the fruit, and knead it to fully and evenly distribute the fruit (this was a messy process, and required me to continually add more flour to keep the dough and fruit from sticking to my board. In the end it yielded a fairly homogeneous mixture).
- Place the dough in your prepared pan and allow it to rise for at least another hour (I let mine go for a couple of hours, while I was running last-minute Christmas errands).
- Preheat your oven to 375F.
- Cut an X in the top of the dough and place the panettone in the oven to bake at 375F for 15minutes (the top element of my oven gets really hot, and tends to burn things if I’m not careful. After the first 15 minutes, I had to cover the panettone with foil to keep it from burning to a crisp. As you can tell by the pictures, it got pretty brown in that first 15 minutes).
- Lower the temperature to 350F and bake for another 30-35 minutes, or until a long skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Allow to cool on a rack on the countertop for 30 minutes before removing it from the mold.
What resulted was a lovely, light, moist loaf of panettone. It isn’t too sweet, and it has just enough fruit in it so that you can taste it, but it’s not overpowering. I think it will make a wonderful french toast on Christmas morning.
If I don’t eat it all before then.
Try it and let me know what you think!
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!