As traditions go, panettone is one that’s hotly contested — some think it wouldn’t be Christmas without it, some don’t love it. If you fall into the latter category, you might want to try this Italian panettone recipe, especially if you don’t have a local Italian bakery to pick up loaves for giving.
If you’re traveling for the holidays, be sure to read about the best Christmas markets in Europe!
Panettone Italian Christmas Cake
Panettone is a cake-like yeast bread that’s dotted with bits of dried fruit. No, not a fruit cake, though it’s often mistaken as such. While it could be mistaken for a Christmas cake, it’s more accurately an Italian Christmas bread.
Panettone has its origins in Milano, but it’s available throughout Italy during the holiday season. Stores carry the bread in a variety of sizes, perfect for sharing with friends. At family gatherings, the bread might be served with a glass of prosecco after a holiday meal. It’s a tradition that is embraced by Italian families all over the world!
If you have any Italian friends in your circle, you may very well have been gifted a loaf of this bread during the holiday season.
While Panettone is readily available in Italy, it’s not as common in America. If you wish to experience this Italian tradition, making it panettone at home from scratch is a wonderful way to do so!
Flour — When I bake with all-purpose flour I opt for the unbleached version. Bleached flour is very white, but it’s also treated with bleaching agents that I don’t really need in my food.
Yeast — You’ll need two different kinds of yeast for this recipe. Instant yeast for the sponge and active dry yeast for the main recipe. Instant yeast is different from active dry yeast in that the granules are smaller and it’s more readily dissolved. It can be added directly to dry ingredients.
Eggs — Fresh eggs, store bought, use what you have readily available.
Butter — Allow the butter to come almost to room temperature for easy mixing. I use salted butter; if you prefer unsalted, that will work fine.
Vanilla — Use real or imitation vanilla extract; whichever you have on hand is fine.
Dried fruit — This is what makes panettone! You’ll use raisins, candied lemon, dried cranberries, and candied oranges for a fruity mix.
Orange zest — Strictly the orange part of the orange peel.
Making this Panettone Recipe from Scratch
You’ll need to plan ahead for this one! This yeasted bread requires that you make a “starter” or “sponge” and let it sit overnight. This bubbly mixture of flour, water, and yeast gives the dough a bit of a head start!
Left overnight, this starter will begin to rise and the yeast will become active, giving good rise to the panettone bread.
The following day, you’ll combine the remaining ingredients — except for the dried fruits and zest! — with the starter and let the dough rise for an hour or two. Once it’s nice and puffy, it’s time to add the fruit that makes this panettone recipe sing.
While this bread could be made in loaf pans, a traditional panettone recipe is baked in a special paper panettone pan. These molds are oven-proof and make it easy for giving — just tie on a ribbon or bow and off you go!
Transfer the completed dough to a baking mold and allow it to rise again, then bake. (Bread making isn’t difficult, but it does require a bit of patience!)
- Slice it and serve it with butter.
- Toast it and serve with butter and marmalade.
- Use it to make a delicious French toast for breakfast.
- Make bread pudding.
- Spread it with Nutella.
To store fresh Panettone, cool completely and store it in an airtight container or seal with plastic wrap. Securely wrapped panettone can be frozen for up to two months.
It’s an Italian Christmas bread traditionally given during the holiday season.
It harkens back to the Middle Ages, so the story goes, but how much is myth and how much is fact? Hard to say! Ancient Romans ate a sweetened loaf made with egg and raisins, but a sweeter story is that of little Toni, a kitchen boy who accidentally burnt the Duke of Milan’s Christmas Eve desserts. To make up for it, he mixed leftover dough with candied fruits and the rest is history. Or myth. YOU decide.
Technically it’s a yeast bread, but it’s a cakey sweet bread.
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Traditional Italian Panettone
This delicious panettone recipe is traditionally made during the holiday season and a favorite in Italian families.
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- 1/16 teaspoon instant yeast
- ⅓ cup cool water
- ¼ cup lukewarm water (110 degrees)
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- All of the prepared starter
- 2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup diced candied lemon
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup diced candied oranges
- 2 tablespoons grated orange zest
To make the starter:
- Combine the starter ingredients in a medium-size bowl.
- Cover and allow to rest on the counter overnight (8 to 10 hours.)
To make the dough:
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large bowl or the bowl for your stand mixer. Allow to sit for ten minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients to the bowl, with the exception of the fruits and zest. Mix together by hand or with a dough hook on a stand mixer until you have a soft, smooth dough.
- Cover the dough and allow to rise until it is puffy, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- Lightly grease a panettone bread mold.
- Gently deflate the dough. Then, knead in the fruits and zest by hand or with a dough hook on a stand mixer.
- Shape the dough into a ball. Place into the prepared panettone mold. Cover and allow the dough to rise until its highest point has just crested over the rim of the baking mold, about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the bread for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Finally, reduce the oven to 350 degrees and finish baking for 25 to 30 minutes. If you notice the crust beginning to brown, tent tin foil over the loaf. When done, the internal temperature will be 190 degrees.
- Cool the loaf completely before storing in an airtight container for up to one week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Mixing the dough with a bread machine:
- Place the water, eggs, vanilla and orange zest into the bread machine. Next, add the sugar, salt, and flour. [More on how to zest oranges here.]
- Dot the butter around the flour. Make an indentation into the flour and add the yeast.
- Start the bread machine using the “dough” setting.
- Before the final kneading cycle, add the remaining ingredients to the dough and allow the kneading cycle to finish.
- Remove the dough and place in a prepared panettone baking mold.
- Allow to rise and bake as previously directed.
Panettone is traditionally made in a special mold. If you don't have access to those, you could make it in loaf pans. This recipe should make two loaves.
While the recipe calls for raisins, cranberries, and candied citrus, you can alter the dried ingredients if you like. Just be sure to cut larger items into smaller pieces before adding to the dough.
Originally published November 2020; this post has been updated.