In Italy panettone comes with an often varied history, but one that invariably states that its birthplace was Milan. The word "panettone" derives from the Italian word "panetto", a small loaf cake. The augmentative Italian suffix "-one" changes the meaning to "large cake". The origins of this cake appear to be ancient, dating back to the Roman Empire, when ancient Romans sweetened a type of leavened cake with honey. A legend tells of a story that takes place in the 15th century when Ludovico il Moro was the Duke of Milan. It begins, one evening when the Duke's cook was asked to prepare a delicious banquet, for himself and a number of nobles. The cook was successful in his feast, however, he had forgotten about the dessert in the oven, which had burnt by the time he realized. The cook was in despair but thankfully the little kitchen boy, Toni, suggested using the sweet cake he had made for himself in the morning using flour, butter, eggs, lime zest, and raisins. The cook was afraid he had no other solutions, so agreed to offer the cake to the guests. They both nervously stood behind the door to see the reactions of the Duke's friends. To the cook's relief, everybody loved the cake. The Duke enjoyed it so much that he asked for its name. The cook responded "L'e 'l pan de Toni", meaning 'the bread of Toni'. The name has since evolved to Panettone. Throughout the ages this "tall, leavened fruitcake" makes cameo appearances in the arts: It is shown in a sixteenth-century painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder and is possibly mentioned in a contemporary recipe book written by Italian Bartolomeo Scappi, personal chef to popes and emperors during the time of Charles V. The first recorded association of panettone with Christmas can be found in the Italian writings of 18th century illuminist Pietro Verri. He refers to it as "Pan de Ton" (luxury bread).
Ingredients 6 oz warm water (about 110F/43C)
4 large egg yolks 2 tsp vanilla 1/2 c (4 oz) sugar
1 tsp each of lemon and orange rind (preferably from organic fruit)
1/2 tsp salt 1/2 c (4 oz) good quality unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
3 1/4 cups (1 lb) organic, unbleached flour
1/4 oz (7g) or 1 pkg dry yeast (preferably for bread machines, but any type will work; I used regular)
1/2 c sultanas
1/2 c raisins
1 egg white, slightly beaten
4 crushed sugar cubes, crushed Belgian pearl sugar or Swedish pearl sugar.
Special equipment needed: parchment paper, a brown paper lunch bag and 6″ round baking pan. Place the water, egg yolks, vanilla, and grated peel into the bread machine first. Next add the sugar, salt, flour and pieces of butter around the outside of the metal pan on top of the flour (see photo below). Make an indentation in the flour and add the yeast. Start the bread machine on "dough" setting. When the machine beeps to add additional ingredients to the dough, toss in the sultanas and raisins, and allow the cycle to finish. Keep an eye on the dough after it's finished and allow to rise until doubled in size. (Alternatively, you can remove the dough and put it in a large sealed container and allow to rise in the refrigerator overnight.) Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and knead into a ball then place it into the pan/paper case and allow to rise until almost doubled. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
While the oven is heating, brush the top of the panettone dough with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with the crushed sugar cubes. Bake for 30 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325F/160C and continue to bake until a long, thin skewer comes out clean (about another half an hour). If the top browns too quickly, cover with aluminum foil. Remove the perfect Italian panettone from the oven and allow to cool in pan for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the panettone from the pan (my bag slipped right off). Place on rack until completely cool. Finally, you can cut your perfect Italian panettone into tall slices and serve.