Wednesday 7 December 2022

Advent 2022 - Fast Tracking #11

Today's Challenge: Fast from... one meal of your choosing out of your normal daily routine.

I have to say I greeted today's challenge of simply skipping a meal as something of a relief. Not so much because the juggling of ingredients or recipes was getting difficult as because I've needed a day to catch up with eating up leftovers which I foolishly omitted to factor in to my fasting-challenge planning. I hate wasting food and generally we waste very little but with a different restriction each day it's not been easy to avoid it. Fortunately, H was not very keen to participate in my Advent fasting challenges and although he's not here all the time now, he's still basically living at home and, Gott sei Dank, has happily mopped up what might otherwise have gone to waste. 

Today I skipped breakfast. The rest of today's meals have been (or will be) a combination of leftovers from the fridge and freezer. See above.

I have however baked some baguettes to go with the said leftovers and some more panettoni to freeze ahead of Christmas itself so I thought I'd share my recipe for the latter here today.

Panettoni are delicious but tricksy customers. A fairly recent arrival to the mainstream Christmas goodie scene in the UK, they have a long history in Italy as a Christmas bake - much lighter and fluffier than our British Christmas cake which is heavy and dark by comparison with its dried fruit, marzipan and icing. In fact, you can't really compare the two. I love panettoni and have been known to splash out on them at Christmas not just for the cake but for the beautiful tins they come in. See herehere or here for a little tin-bait but be prepared for temptation! 

I have a thing about tins and can be lured to buy almost anything from panettone to soap powder packaged in a colourful, well-made tin even with an outrageous price mark-up. I'm sure I am not alone in this as manufacturers know well!

Anyway, back to the cake itself. Or bread. Panettone is raised with yeast and more akin to brioche than cake so perhaps falls more into the category of sweetened bread rather than cake. 

I prefer individual panettoni to big ones because I find that the big ones dry out very quickly. Wonderful on the day you cut into them, 24 hours later and they are already heading for stale territory, however carefully you wrap them. This is disappointing, either if you've bought one - and good ones are quite expensive - even more so, if you've gone to the trouble of making one so I now make individual ones and freeze what is not consumed on the day of manufacture. True, you do miss out on the outrageously extended ratio of fluffy inside to crust but this is more than compensated for by life-expectancy, if I can put it like that! 

Good quality commercially made panettone are expensive both because of their ingredients - butter, eggs, candied and dried fruit and flavourings such as saffron and vanilla and also because their manufacture is time-consuming and hands-on. Traditionally, the dough is given a very long proving time and once baked, the panettone are suspended upside down to cool so that the crust doesn't become soggy. Quite a faff so making them at home may, or may not, be something you feel like attempting. Particularly if the result is going to go stale very quickly. Buying one, if you have a whole houseful who will devour it at one sitting is a good option, especially if it comes in a lovely tin (enough said!), but if you want something a little more frugal and you don't have numbers sufficient to demolish a big panettone at one sitting, then I recommend making your own individual panettoni or 'panettoncini' as little ones are called in Italy.

And this is a breeze, especially if you have an automatic bread maker. You do need individual paper panettone cases like these which you can get either from Amazon or various other On-Line baking suppliers such as Bakery Bits which is where I get mine from. The baked panettoncini are delicious fresh and freeze beautifully so will never go stale - just defrost what you want, to use as and when.

The recipe which I'm sharing here is what I've evolved from various sources and what I've found by trial and error works for me. I do have an automatic bread maker so this is what I use to prepare the dough. If you don't, then it's perfectly possible to make by hand -  just follow the method for any enriched dough that you like and works for you. You can also, of course, vary the flavouring to suit your own particular tastes - change the type of dried fruit - sultanas for raisins, or try dried cherries and blueberries, or use less fruit if you prefer - I like mine fruit-heavy; swap the orange and vanilla flavouring for lemon and almond or even rosewater. The great thing about this kind off bread dough is that it is a canvas for creativity so you can play around and have fun with it so long as you keep the basic proportion of ingredients the same. 

3tsps instant dried yeast (12g)
500g strong white flour
80g cubed unsalted butter at room temperature (it's important the butter is not chilled from the fridge or even cold - weigh it out several hours ahead of making the dough)
80g golden caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp orange zest - either fresh or 1heaped tsp dried powdered orange zest (I use dried tangerine peel blitzed to a powder in a spice grinder)
½ tsp vanilla seeds or paste (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
3 large eggs (minus ½ an egg for the glaze)
c 225g whole milk - enough to make up 350g with the eggs
100g golden raisins
100g ordinary raisins
100g homemade candied peel - orange or grapefruit - chopped in small pieces

For the glaze
½ a beaten egg - about 25g (removed from the eggs going into the dough)
pearl sugar like this to finish also available from Ocado or Amazon 

Choose the basic raisin programme on the bread maker or prepare the dough as you would usually by hand ie mixing everything together apart from the fruit and kneading to an elastic dough. Add in the dried fruit when the bread machine prompts you to or by hand and leave to finish the programme on the bread maker or to prove for a couple of hours at room temperature, if making by hand. 

At this stage you can divide up the dough and slip it into its paper cases and leave to prove further in the fridge overnight or you can bake straight away depending on what suits you.

Divide the dough into 12 portions of approximately 110g each. Form into tight balls and drop each one into a paper panettoncini case on a baking tray. Chill in the fridge overnight or leave for an hour or so to bake straight away, if you're in a hurry. Preheat the oven to 195 ℃. Brush the tops of the panettoncini with the reserved beaten egg and sprinkle on some pearl sugar which looks pretty and adds a nice crunch. 

Bake for 14 minutes then slip an unheated baking tray above the panettoncini in the oven, on a rack above them but without touching them. This unheated baking tray acts as a heat sink and protects the tops from burning. If your oven is quite fierce, you can turn the heat off entirely and just leave the panettoncini in there for another 6 minutes. If it's gentler, turn the heat down significantly but leave it on for the final 6 minutes. This last stint of time at a lower temperature is important - with the relatively high yeast percentage and all that dried fruit, it's important to make sure that the panettoncini are cooked all the way through and I've found they do need the full 20 minutes cooking time, divided up as indicated. On no account, forget about them if you've turned the oven off! Or all your careful efforts to avoid them burning will be to no avail! Always set a timer and check back ahead of time to avoid disaster is my rule here derived from learning the hard way with a number of burnt offerings in my baking past! 

Once the time is up, remove the panettoncini from the oven and slip them onto a wire rack to cool. No need to suspend them upside down from broom handles as the professionals do with their panettoni. Once cool (or still warm), sample your efforts. Any you do not consume on the day you make them should be frozen for further delectation with not a stale, or dry crumb in sight! Don't freeze them until they are completely cold though. 

Of course, the texture of these is not going to compete with the best that professional panettone maestros in Italy can produce but they're not bad for a homemade version nonetheless, especially with any possibility of dryness eliminated. To see how the professionals do it, give yourself a treat and watch this - it's a joy to watch and listen to Vincenzo and Domenico in their bakery. Between them they have been baking pannettoni professionally for over 80 years and every year they say their pannettoni get better and better which I find inspiring beyond belief!

E x

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