This piece first appeared as part of my "Gluten-Free Tuesday" column on SeriousEats.com
To me, Christmas morning smells like burnt panettone. After spending Christmas Eve cooking a huge meal, my mom did not make Christmas breakfast. Instead she burned panettone. And I loved it.
I'm sure she didn't mean to burn the panettone. But the Italian holiday fruit bread never seemed to make it out of the toaster without singeing—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Looking back, I can see that paper-thin slices of a sweetened, rich bread never stood a chance in our toaster. And now, it's hard to find a gluten-free way to recreate that taste memory.
Unless, of course, I made my own gluten-free panettone. With a little patience (this bread takes about 16 hours from start to finish), a sturdy mixer, and a few gluten-free flours, homemade gluten-free panettone is fairly easy.
If you've never made gluten-free bread before, you might want to check out my recipe for sandwich bread for a few tips on gluten-free bread baking.
Traditional panettone uses a biga—a pre-ferment made from a mixture of flour, yeast and water that ferments overnight—to achieve a high rise and a nice deep flavor. This is good news for gluten-free baking—thanks to the lack of gluten and the amount of fat and sugar in the dough, this loaf needs all the help rising it can get. (By the way, the biga doesn't work alone. The finished loaf contains a generous amount of active dry yeast and a little baking powder to aid its rise.)
To get the full benefit of the biga, mix it about twelve to fifteen hours before you plan on baking. Just stir the ingredients together and let the yeast do its thing while you sleep. You might find the consistency of the biga a little startling. This gluten-free biga is wet, thick, and sticky. It looks a bit like marshmallow fluff.
After mixing my biga, I combine my dried fruits with lemon and vanilla extract.Macerating the fruits overnight infuses them with flavor. Since many people dislike the classic panettone fruits of citron and candied lemon and orange peel, I've include a list of alternative dried fruit options for the recipe. No matter which fruits you choose, all benefit from an overnight soak.
Mixing the Dough
To prepare the dough, you'll first mix the wet and dry ingredients together until a dough forms. Like most gluten-free bread dough, this dough does not form a firm ball. Instead it's a really thick, wet dough, almost a cross between a dough and a batter. To chug through the dough, you'll want to use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
After the dough forms, add the butter. Be sure to use very soft butter for this step. Anything harder leaves clumps of butter throughout the dough. To test the butter's softness, stick your finger (or a fork) into it. If your finger sinks easily into the butter, it's the right consistency.
The dried fruits go in last. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the fruits, mixing until the fruits are just incorporated.
Rising and Punching
The panettone goes through two rises. For the first rise, just cover your bowl with a piece of greased plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for about two hours. In approximately two hours, the dough should double in size. Once it doubles it needs to be punched down.
Since this dough is so sticky, you don't want to punch it with your bare hands or you'll end up with dough all over yourself. Instead, stir it gently with a greased wooden spoon or rubber spatula until it is almost fully deflated, or use the piece of greased plastic wrap that covers the bowl to help punch down the dough. I prefer the second option. Simply remove the plastic wrap from the bowl and place it loosely over the dough. Deflate the dough by using your knuckles. The plastic wrap barrier between your hand and the dough prevents the dough from sticking to you.
No matter how you do it, deflate the dough about 75% and then spoon it into a prepared pan.
Shaping: A Pan or a Paper?
Tradition dictates that you bake panettone in paper. While pretty, paper doesn't make the best vessel for baking gluten-free bread. Each time I made this recipe in paper, I ended up with raw spots in the center of the loaf. Gross!
Baking panettone in a tube or Bundt pan can help to prevent raw spots. The rod in the center of the pan gets hot during baking and thoroughly bakes the center of the loaf. Of course, it doesn't look quite like a traditional panettone, but I'd rather have a funny-looking panettone over a raw one.
This loaf takes about one hour to bake. The finished loaf should be between 207-211°F. (Take the temperature in the center of the loaf, not near the sides.) When the bread reaches the correct temperature, remove it from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool.
Serving and Storing
I love this bread served as is or toasted. To avoid burning panettone like my mom did so many times, slice the pieces at least 1/2-inch thick. And be sure to keep your eye on the bread as it toasts.
Well wrapped, this bread keeps for about three days on the counter. If you don't plan on eating the entire loaf in three days, wait until the panettone cools, slice it, and freeze.
Ready to Bake? Here's a Step-by-Step
The dry ingredients are mixed with the wet ingredients and the biga. At first the dough is thick.
Softened butter goes in one piece at a time.
And the dough become very soft.
After the fruit is added, transfer the dough to a large greased bowl. Why large?
The dough doubles in size! Hence the need for a big bowl.
Have a bit of pent-up holiday anger? Take it out on the dough! It needs to be "punched" down before the second rise. Don't have holiday anger? Punch it anyway!
Once you've punched the dough, transfer it to a well greased bundt pan.
The dough rises again. This rise takes about one hour. And then...
it gets baked! Isn't it pretty?
Slice it up. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and call it day!
Click HERE for the recipe