A couple of days later, Michelle got up, took a look out the window, and decided she was making panettone. She'd never made panettone before, but her friend Ana had once again given her some phenomenal candied fruit from Cancun, and Michelle thought they might go to go use in a panettone.
The recipe she turned to was from Bon Appétit and it had the advantage of being a recipe that could be made in the space of a few hours, as opposed to the full day needed for most traditional versions. It also involved saffron, and we had good quality saffron on hand that was just begging to be used.
Saffron Panettone with Mexican Candied Fruit
1 cup whole milk
8 green cardamom pods
1/8 tsp crumbled saffron threads
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1 tsp plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, brought to room temperature
4 large eggs
3/4 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups high quality candied fruit*
1 egg white, beaten
8 sugar cubes, coarsely crushed
Mix the milk, cardamom pods, and saffron in small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Swirl pan around a bit to spread the saffron, its color, and its flavor fully. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Cover and let steep until a thermometer inserted into this mixture registers 110°F. This takes about 20 minutes.
Strain milk mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer. Sprinkle yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar over the milk mixture. Let stand until the yeast is dissolved and the mixture is foamy. This'll take about 10 minutes. Mix in remaining 1/2 cup sugar, the butter, 4 eggs, and the salt. Add 2 cups of flour and beat on low speed until smooth. Increase speed to medium. Gradually add 2 1/2 cups flour and beat until smooth. Beat in candied orange peel and raisins. Continue beating until dough pulls away from sides of bowl "in long stretchy strands." This should take about 3 minutes and the dough should be sticky. Butter a large bowl. Scrape the dough into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then with a towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area (not the easiest thing in this apartment at this time of year) until doubled. This stage should take about 2 hours.
Butter a 10" x 4" angel food cake pan. Using a rubber spatula, press lightly on the dough to release some air. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, the form it into 18- to 20-inch rope. Transfer to a prepared pan and wrap around center tube, pushing and pinching the ends together and pressing the top of the dough slightly with rubber spatula to try to distribute it as evenly as possible. [As you can see in the photo up top, Michelle used traditional panettone wrappers that she found at a local professional kitchen supply store, and she made two panettones instead.] Cover it loosely with plastic wrap, then a towel. Let the dough rise again in a warm, draft-free area until almost doubled. This stage should take another 45 minutes.
Position an oven rack in the center of oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the top of the dough with your beaten egg white. Sprinkle the panettone with crushed sugar cubes. Bake until golden brown and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in pan on rack for about 30 minutes. Turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
This panettone serves about 10-12.
*Bon Appétit's original version calls for 1 cup candied orange peel and 1 cup golden raisins instead.
How did it look? Well, just take a look at the pictures above and below. Pretty, huh?
How did it taste? We found that this abbreviated panettone-making process resulted in a panettone that had a very nice taste to it--the saffron and the Mexican candied fruit gave it an impressive depth, even a warmth--but wasn't as fine as the panettones we pick up from local Italian specialty stores for Christmas. So it might not have had that "professional" finish to it, but we really liked it all the same. It was excellent with morning and/or afternoon coffee, but it was even better the next day as French toast.
When it comes to French Toast, unless we're cooking for guests, we always use a halved version of an Annie Somerville recipe. The full version reads as follows:
1 cup half-and-half (C'mon, live a little!) or milk
2 tbsp sugar
Zest of 1 orange, minced
1/8 tsp true cinnamon, preferably freshly ground
large pinch or two of grated nutmeg (optional)
8 slices of challah or sourdough bread (we used 4 slices of panettone instead)
unsalted butter for the pan
Beat the eggs, half-and-half or milk, the sugar, the zest, and the cinnamon (and the nutmeg, if you've decided to go that route) together in a shallow bowl. Transfer to a shallow dish. Soak each slice of bread in the mixture until moist and soaked through, but don't allow them to get overly soggy.
Melt enough butter in a large skillet to coat the pan. When the butter begins to sizzle, add as many slices of bread as will fit. Cook over medium heat until the bread is lightly browned on each side, making sure that the slices are cooked through. Repeat as needed.