This panettone, a traditional Italian Christmas cake, is made with plenty of butter and dried fruits and nuts and is as flavorful as it is foolproof. It can also be customized given your fancy. Bake a couple large loaves in coffee cans or more smaller loaves in paper molds.
There are conflicting stories about the origins of the word “panettone.” Our favorite is the legend that it comes from the Milanese phrase “pan del ton,” which in English literally translates to “cake of luxury.” This makes a lot of sense when you take a look at the ingredients of this traditional Italian Christmas cake given that the dough is egg enriched and ample butter and gilded with toasted pistachios, dried fruit, citrus zest, a splash of rum…yep, luxury.
And if you love this, try your hand at this German Christmas bread. You won’t be disappointed.–Renee Schettler Rossi
☞ Table of Contents
- Two coffee cans or 6-inch paper panettone baking molds OR four 4- to 5-inch paper panettone baking molds (price tags removed)
For the starter
- 1 cup whole milk warmed
- 2 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
For the panettone
- 1 cup raw nuts, such as shelled pistachios chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt plus a few pinches
- 4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour plus more for kneading and shaping the dough
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest preferably organic
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest preferably organic
- 1/2 cup candied orange and lemon rind optional
- 1 cup chopped dried fruit, such as cranberries
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 sticks unsalted butter softened, plus more for the pans or molds
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks (whites reserved for glaze)
- Mild vegetable oil for the bowl
Make the starter
- In a small glass bowl, combine the warm milk, yeast, flour, and sugar and stir to blend. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest until slightly bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Make the panettone
- Place the nuts on a baking sheet and spray them with water, sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt, and toast for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a cutting board to cool and then coarsely chop them.
- In a bowl, combine the 1 teaspoon salt, the flour, lemon and orange zests, candied orange and lemon peel, if using, fruit, nuts, rum, and vanilla.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes or until fluffy. Add the eggs and yolks and beat well. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Gradually add the starter and continue to beat on low speed until all the ingredients are incorporated. The dough should not be sticky or too firm. It should look buttery and a little ragged.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 1 to 2 minutes, pushing the dough away from you with the heels of your hands and then folding it back over on itself. The dough will be smooth and satiny.
- Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, at least 2 hours.
- Gently turn the dough onto a work surface and divide it into 4 equal pieces if making smaller loaves or into 2 pieces if making larger loaves. Carefully handle the dough so as to keep as much air in it as possible. Let the pieces rest, covered with a clean towel, for 10 minutes.
- To make smaller panettone, butter four 1-pound coffee cans or butter 4- to 5-inch-wide deep parchment paper molds (available online and at baking stores). To make larger panettone, butter two 2-pound coffee cans.
- Shape each portion of dough into a smooth ball and place it in a mold. Each mold should be about half full.
- Beat the reserved egg whites and use the to brush the tops of the loaves. Cover and let the loaves rise until just slightly less than doubled, up to 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Adjust the oven rack to the middle position.
- Uncover the panettone, place them in the oven, and reduce the heat to 350°F (175°C). Bake for 30 to 35 minutes is using smaller molds and up to 45 minutes for larger molds. The exact baking time will vary depending on the exact size of your cans or molds. (If, after 20 minutes of baking, the top of the panettone is taking on too much color, loosely cover with a piece of aluminum foil.) The bread is done when a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.
- Cool the panettone in the molds for 15 minutes and then carefully remove the loaves from the molds or cans and place them on wire racks to cool completely. Panettone will keep for up to a week in a tightly sealed plastic bag (or you can wrap and freeze the panettone for up to 6 months).
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I’ve made different versions and sizes of panettone over the years and this is a recipe I will definitely repeat.
I forgot to buy an orange so I had to omit the orange zest but I did use lemon zest. I also used 1/4 cup of candied lemon rind. I found the dough to be quite easy to work with. As described it was not too sticky nor firm and kneading it was not complicated. An important note is the recipe as written does not instruct when to add the mix of cranberries, pistachios and accompanying ingredients. I didn’t catch this at first and let the dough rise for 2 hours. Then I noticed there were no steps on adding the filling, so I worked it into the dough and let it rise another hour. If that step had been written in, I think the 2 hours rise would suffice.
From the dough I made 4 small panettone. In lieu of coffee cans I used 5-inch panettone paper molds. I let the dough rise for an hour in the molds, then brushed with the egg whites. I placed all 4 on a single baking sheet. They took exactly 30 minutes to bake. I tested with a wooden skewer, which came out clean. The tops of the panettone were a nice golden brown color. The kitchen smelled amazing. I let them cool overnight then tried a piece in the morning. I think the cranberry and pistachio pairing is excellent. The pistachio especially gives it a nice nuttiness that is not overpowering. I like the sweet and salty combo from using salted pistachios. I’m planning to make this again and give these as Christmas gifts. Thanks for the recipe!
Let me start by saying that through no fault of this recipe, I totally overbaked my panettone. Note to reader: Do NOT clean out your pantry while baking a delicate delicious Italian dessert bread! That said, even overbaked, this was a lovely bread. The flavors were gorgeous! I love love love cranberries and pistachios. I leapt at the chance to bake this. This is definitely not a quick kind of “throw together” recipe. But with careful planning, this is a fantastic gift for someone you love or a treat to have in the house. I will absolutely make this again while monitoring it significantly more closely.
I made my own candied orange and lemon peel. The panettone didn’t rise quite as much as I had hoped. But admittedly my house is very cold and I probably could have let it proof a whole extra hour prior to popping it in the oven. But I let my impatience get the best of me.
Describing the initial mixture as buttery and ragged is spot on. The dough was satiny at about 3 minutes of kneading. It took just over 4 hours to double. I used two 6.25-inch panettone springform pans.
It took two hours to rise and probably could have used another hour. After 45 minutes, it was still completely raw inside so I added a half hour which was TOO much! I probably needed 15 to 20 minutes more.
As far as servings, I would say a single loaf is about 16 servings.
This is lovely! I grew up with a similar version of homemade panettone but had never made it myself. I eagerly jumped on this. This recipe is so straightforward and easy to follow it seems almost foolproof.
The end result is a dense, moist and very flavorful bread. We ate it the way I always have; in the morning, slightly toasted, with butter.
I would, however, recommend making sure you read through it first to ensure you have enough time to complete it (4 to 5 hours) because at several points you’re going to have to let it sit and rise. I have a vague recollection of my grandparents waking up in the middle of the night to tend to this process and now I understand why. You won’t need to do that, though, if you start early enough!
A few notes: I couldn’t find candied lemon/orange rind, but I did find a candied papaya which I chopped and used in a similar fashion. This lent it self to the slight bitterness that is needed. I also couldn’t find the right sized cans for baking, but I did find some vintage coffee cans on the cheap (short and squat and about 6 inches across) and lined them with parchment instead of greasing with butter. I left the parchment go well above the top of the cans and this helped keep the dough rising straight upwards while it was baking. Using this method, I made 3 equal-sized loaves. They were done at 30 minutes.
I used 3 vintage coffee cans (the shorter, squat kind) lined with parchment paper and baked the loaves for 30 minutes. I did not need to use foil during the bake as the loaves browned up perfectly.
I will definitely make this again!
This is a delicious and delicately flavored panettone. Not too sweet and with bright but naturally colored citrus, cranberry, and nuts, it’s pretty and makes a lovely gift (but be sure to reserve plenty for yourself).
I used buttered paper panettone forms and made 4 loaves. It was easy to pull together, though I was a little concerned about my mixer, and finished the last bit of mixing the stiff dough by hand, and then kneading. It is a reminder of how lovely enriched doughs are to work with as they develop (although this was my first panettone). The result is worth using really good ingredients (I ordered fresh batches of candied lemon and orange, made sure my dry cranberries were a fresh batch, etc.). The whole recipe can happen in one day and most of the time is for the rise. The panettone turned out so well I am plotting my next batch and play with different size molds.
The panettone seems to actually be even better on subsequent days when kept tightly wrapped. I wanted the opinions of some folks who were much more familiar with panettone than I was, and they thought it was delicious, perhaps a little denser that the ones their families had but delicious plain as well as buttered and toasted. If I make another one and the weather is super cold, I will try to be even more patient to get the taller rise I had hoped for.
The one direction that did NOT make sense was to include the rum and vanilla with all the dry ingredients. Towards the end of mixing I felt it was stressing the mixer. Perhaps in hindsight, switching to a dough hook would have been better, but I removed it and finished the mixing by hand in a large, shallow bowl, and then finished kneading it on a large board.
Initial rise was just over 2 hours. In cold weather, my kitchen is a bit cool, and my rise was not as dramatic in the end as I hoped after the shaping and 2nd rise, but within reason as called for in the recipe. After 80 minutes (again, cool kitchen), they were well over 1 1/2 times the original size and not quite doubled.
I used 4 small panettone baking papers, about 5 1/4 inches in diameter and 3 1/2 inches deep. Placed on a large sheet pan, all 4 baked at once. At 20 minutes, there was definitely browning, so I tented with light foil for the remainder. Given the wide aspect ratio of my molds, the baking time seemed to be closer to 40 to 45 minutes.
Yeast bread recipes always cause a stir, little twinges of trepidation, as they summon back memories of past yeast failures: whole-wheat sticky bun doorstoppers, fallen challah. This recipe gives me hope. Altogether this was an easy recipe that produced a lightly sweet yeast bread ideal for accompanying morning coffee or afternoon tea. Or butter, anytime.
I opted out of the candied citrus peels because I’ve never been a candied peel fan. In terms of sweetness and personal taste, it was a good decision. The freshly grated lemon and orange zests came through beautifully, which surprised me, given they were only a couple tablespoons’ worth!
The panettone dough process was smooth. A paddle attachment would have made the incorporation of the starter a smoother process. Kneading was a breeze, and its stated timing was accurate as the dough took 1 1/2 hours to double.
I buttered 2 paper molds from Sur La Table and split my dough into two balls that filled their molds halfway, and they doubled in size within 1 hour.
The loaves, which I tented after 30 to 35 minutes, took closer to an hour for a tester to come out clean. I still probably should have removed them at 45 to 50 minutes since they’d keep cooking for a bit anyway.
The loaves were beautiful, the paper molds were easy to remove, and the yield per loaf was about 10 servings, depending on your mood! The pistachios and dried cranberries were simple, lovely, and unexpected embellishments, bringing new flavors and textures to a very traditional holiday sweet.
I would definitely bake this again, but would like to create smaller panettone for sharing with friends and family. The large loaves were very substantial!
Originally published December 21, 2019