Making an artisan panettone takes days of careful work. Here’s why it’s worth it.
It’s been called the Mount Everest of holiday baking, considered by bakers to be the most difficult baked good to perfect. Most bakers don’t even try, unless they’re driven by personal obsession or family destiny. Panettone, that iconic bread-slash-cake of the Italian holiday season, is no mere fruitcake. At least, not if you want it done right.
While colorful cardboard boxes containing a shelf-stable version of the treat appear in every Italian grocery store (and many American ones, too!) when the weather turns cold, there are only a handful of bakers dedicated to continuing the traditional art of panettone. Making artisan panettone is a multiday process that must be shepherded along by a trained baker who can see, feel, and even hear perfection in the dough at every step. But the second you taste a fluffy, flavorful slice of true artisan panettone, like our Giadzy panettones, you’ll know it was all worth it.
A traditional panettone starts with the lievito madre, the “mother dough” you might recognize as a sourdough starter. In serious Italian bakeries, this mother is carefully protected, added to over generations and considered a living part of the family. With just flour, water, and the perfect environment, the mother captures live yeast from the air to ferment and become a flavorful agent of levitation. It tastes of the place where it is made; when you bite into a slice of artisan panettone, you’re tasting the spirit of the northern Italian countryside where it was born.
Mass-produced panettone uses liquid or instant yeast to hurry the process along, losing out on the layers of flavor that are built over a long, slow natural fermentation—kind of like the difference between a grocery-store loaf of white bread and the rich sourdough you get from your favorite bakery. The active, “lively” yeast that is captured during the natural fermentation process also helps give the panettone its satisfyingly fluffy texture. The luxurious quantities of egg and butter used to make panettone a holiday-ready treat can weigh it down without the right yeast, leading to a brick-like loaf instead of the cloudlike dome we love.
After the mother has done her work and the dough has gone through a 48-hour process of kneading, resting, and rising, it’s time to add the mix-ins. We’re in love with the modern explosion of creative panettone flavors that you can find these days—that’s why we made sure to include a just-for-us double chocolate panettone in our collection! Whether they’re adding the traditional dried fruit or gems of milk and dark chocolate, the panettone baker must slowly add them to the dough’s final knead, right before the cakes are shaped. At that stage, the beautifully smooth dough is elastic enough to hold each morsel suspended in place without sinking or clumping. The result? Bursts of bright flavor that are evenly distributed in every bite surrounded by the heavenly soft, just-sweet-enough crumb of the gorgeous panettone.
Finally, the panettone receives one last blessing before it heads to the oven—literally. By hand, the baker marks a cross over the top of each cake with a sharp knife, a practice called scarpatura. This shape guides the panettone’s final rise in the oven into a perfect dome shape, which is preserved by hanging the cakes upside down to cool as soon as they’re done baking.
From the first slice, you’ll see the difference that human touch makes in a properly made panettone. The silky, springy crumb is laced with trademark “vertical caves,” narrow air pockets that are a testament to the mother dough’s amazing power of elevation. The hefty dome (true panettone artists won’t make anything smaller than a few kilograms, as the smaller size limits its ability to rise) is gorgeously bronzed but not chewy, rich but never overpowering. A well-made panettone is a hefty marvel of patience and skill, yours to savor over the season. That’s why we package our artisan-made Giadzy panettones in gorgeous keepsake boxes and tins, to make these edible works of art the show-stopping centerpieces they deserve to be.
Want to learn more? Watch the entire process below!