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Chef Walter’s Flavors + Knowledge: All About Panettone

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


In Italy it wouldn't be Christmas without one at the end of the dinner. Created in Milan at the time of Ludovico il Moro, it is still produced in the city by bakers and confectioners according to the traditional recipe. One of the most popular legends on its origin is as follows. Once the cook at court had to prepare a sumptuous Christmas dinner to which many aristocrats were invited, but the cake, forgotten in the oven, burned. On seeing the desperation of the cook, Toni, a young kitchen boy, proposed a solution: "With the leftovers in the pantry - a little flour, butter, egg, lime zest and some raisins - I made this cake. If you have nothing else, you can bring it to the table." The cook agreed, the guests were all excited and to the Duke, who wanted to know the name of that delicacy, the chef revealed the secret: In Milan, during the holiday season, there's no bakery or pastry shop that do not exhibit a personal interpretation of panettone, but there is no doubt that the classic version is the one that has always received the greatest success. The panettone has long crossed the boundaries of its native city. Its main feature is the preparation, that requires a double or triple rising, made with a yeast, a dough that magically regenerates indefinitely.

Actually, the origin of panettone is another, since ancient times there was a habit to eat special bread in Milan on the occasion of Christmas, symbolic special bread that everybody could eat. And then of course the consumption habits changed, and there have been developments, and the panettone changed as a result, was enriched until you get today's recipe, in short, with butter, eggs, sugar, a bit of sultanas and candied orange. The production process of the panettone is a very complex process, and the main ingredient is yeast, but not any yeast: natural yeast. The feature of the panettone yeast is that you cannot buy it. Each laboratory must produce it inside. And the Milanese method requires that there is a "mother", a piece of dough that is recovered in the evening, and is enveloped in a towel and kept it until the next morning. In the morning these dough are made; in the Milanese method they are three: one immediately in the morning, adding flour and water, and then leaving it to rise. After a few hours when it is leavened at the right point, it is taken again, another refresh is made with new dough, with the addition of water and flour. Another leavening and then a third one; at that point then the product is broken, it is rounded, a phase is performed that is called "spot welding", that is very important, that is a pre-raising. Afterwards comes the rolling that is called the "piallatura" in the jargon, the positioning of the product in "pirottine", and then off to leavening.

The leavening takes about 7-8 hours in the panettone, because it must have typical alveolation, with little holes that you see inside the product, they must not be perfectly regular. There is leavening, and then there is the baking preceded by a cross-like cut, which in antiquity was used to bless the product, and baking. Afterwards, cooling, which is preferably natural, that is at room temperature, and finally the wrapping, and the whole process lasts more than three days at the end, it is a definitely complex process. It is virtually impossible to imagine, for a great many Italian families, to finish the Christmas dinner without the inevitable cake. To serve the tasty Milanese cake is a bit like inviting into our homes the Christmas atmosphere typical of the Lombard capital. The recipe is long and somewhat challenging for first timers. If you would like to act on it please e-mail Chef Walter [email protected] for it!

Master Chef Walter Potenza is the owner of Potenza Ristorante in Cranston, Chef Walters Cooking School and Chef Walters Fine Foods. His fields of expertise include Italian Regional Cooking, Historical Cooking from the Roman Empire to the Unification of Italy, Sephardic Jewish Italian Cooking, Terracotta Cooking, Diabetes and Celiac. Recipient of National and International accolades, awarded by the Italian Government as Ambassador of Italian Gastronomy in the World. Currently on ABC6 with Cooking Show “Eat Well."  Check out the Chef's website and blog.


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