Ever since I began baking sourdough, I've wanted to bake a true, traditional sourdough panettone for Christmas time. I love the sweet-tart flavor and the airy crumb of a bread that's at once delicate and rich. Panettone is a marvelous bread, jeweled with sweet raisins and candied citrus peel - especially when you serve it with a mug of dark, inky tea or coffee.
This version not only uses a sourdough starter to give the panettone its loft, but also einkorn flour and honey for sweetness in a nod to traditional and ancient baking.
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What is Panettone and where does it come from?
Studded with candied citrus and raisins, Panettone is a delicate, light bread enriched with eggs and butter. While Panettone is traditionally enjoyed both in Italy and throughout the world during the winter holidays, it comes from the northern Italian city of Milan.
While Panettone was popularized by a Milanese bakery in the early part of the 20th century who can lay claim to transforming Panettone from its roots as a small, heavy, fruited style of bread to the light-as-air, tall and domed bread you enjoy today, its exact origins are muddled and cloudy. There are many apocryphal stories and bits of folklore that hold that panettone was created by a poor baker who wished to marry the daughter of a wealthy Milanese nobleman, or that a cook, having burned the dessert of a ducal banquet entrusted a little boy to make dessert with what he had on hand.
While we may never know the exact origins of panettone, we do know that fruited, sweetened bread has been baked and served as a treat since the Roman era, if not earlier. And unless one came from a wealthy class, bread made from expensive ingredients like wheat flour, eggs, butter, sweeteners, and candied fruit would be only a rare treat and reserved for times of celebration which is why panettone, regardless of its exact origins, is associated with Christmas.
How to Make Sourdough Panettone
True panettone achieves its lofty rise and delicate structure with sourdough starter, not baker's yeast which is an inauthentic, modern addition. Sourdough panettone has a light, airy crumb and a faint tartness that balances the sweetness of honey and candied fruit. Just as, traditionally, bakers used sourdough to leaven breads, they would also use flour made from farro, or any of the three grains: einkorn, emmer, and spelt - which they used in absence of modern wheat.
Modern recipes for panettone often include making two separate doughs which are then combined together, and up to three rises; for ease, you can make a leaven by combining proofed sourdough starter, water, and flour, and then blend that leaven with the remaining ingredients for your dough: additional flour, flavorings, honey, salt, butter, egg yolks as well as dried and candied fruit. From here, you allow your panettone to rise twice: the first is a bulk rise in an airtight mixing bowl, and then you allow it to rise a second time after shaping it and placing it in a panettone paper. A panettone paper is similar to a paper muffin cup, only larger.