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The Zoia Panettone Challenge

- Recipe from “Non Solo Zucchero” by Iginio Massari


Iginio Massari a name much revered in the world of Panettone yet his mentor, Achille Zoia is lesser known, but to his credit a speciality flour formulated to accommodate Zoia’s technological liking bears his name… “Panettone Z” produced by Molino Dallagiovanna is the flour of choice being favoured by many maestri for its excellent extensibility.

Publications “Cresci” and “Non Solo Zucchero” authored by Massari both feature recipes from Zoia and these stand out with respect to their formulation and presentation, typically not including any flour in the second mix, favouring high levels of sugar while utilising minimal egg content and ultimately preferring basso forms. This bold approach in omitting additional flour in the final mix appears unique with respect to the typical formulations and presents a considerable challenge to the amateur…

Where a challenge presents itself, there is this baker full of zeal! I tackled his Paradise Panettone many years ago and at that time it took several attempts and felt very difficult to achieve success, often falling from the mould, but with repetition I would find salvation.

*Honey was infused with flavourings; candied orange paste, orange zest and vanilla extract.

Crumb: Some minor defects but otherwise showing good alveolation. It might not look it, but tearing into it, the texture is feathery bread shred. A clean cut no crumbles.

The dough received 3 sets of pre-shape rounds / stretch & folds while resting on the counter in what is technically a bulk fermentation period prior to placing in the mould. After about 90 minutes, enough strength was achieved to diminish spreading and encourage it to rise upwards with vigour.

Experience with this formula demonstrates it makes for a weaker final dough, since all the flour is fermented in the primo impasto. This leads to a less oomph in the final rise, losing its strength as it reaches the high heights when using the alto forms. This weakness shows itself as large bubbles that begin to emerge at the surface.


50% hydration refreshed mother leaven (lievito madre rinfresco).

Preparing the mother for the overnight rest in water.

Even with a pH too low, this bake ticked all the boxes, delicately light, soft, rich, and sweet but also full of flavour and rounded off by a sense of nourishing satiety.

To all the panettone bakers out there, I present to you the Zoia Panettone Challenge…

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Pandoro A Due Impasti di Giorilli
 Primo Impasto(g)(g)
 Whole eggs✝1650236
 Secondo Impasto  
 Egg yolks35050
 Cocoa butter✝✝17024
 To Finish the mix  
 Fresh cream14020
Total 76611094

* Additional flavourings were added: After mixing the primo impasto, honey from the recipe was mixed with vanilla, lemon zest and a splash of dark rum. This was left to infuse overnight before being mixed into the emulsion the following day.

✝  A splash of milk (UK: Semi skimmed) was added to 4 whole eggs (UK: large) to make up the desired weight of 236g.

✝✝ Cocoa butter was substituted with quality white chocolate.


Per il primo impasto, begin by mixing the flour with the leaven and almost all the eggs. When the dough becomes smooth, add the remaining eggs. After a few minutes incorporate the sugar, the salt and the lastly the butter. Let it rise at 25-26C for around 12 hours or when it reaches triple the volume.

Per il secondo impasto, mix half of the first dough with the flour and the malt. When the dough becomes smooth add the other half, the salt and lastly the egg yolks, a little at a time. When the dough is elastic and homogenous incorporate the emulsion, prepared in advance by creaming the butter with sugar and amalgamating well the other ingredients. Finish the mix adjusting the consistency with the fresh cream.

Transfer to a container and let rest for around 30 minutes at 28C. After this time, scale pieces of the desired weight, shape into a boule and place on butter boards and hold them at 28C for around 60 minutes. Shape and place in the moulds. Allow to rise at 28-30C for around 6 hours or until the dough reaches the edges of the mould.

Baking times:

500g: 30 minutes at 170C
750g: 40 minutes at 170C
1000g: 50 minutes at 170C

Remove from the oven and let the pandoro cool for around 60 minutes before removing from the mould. 

LM - Not fully tripled but pleasant alcohol aromas within.

Primo Impasto - After12 hours the primo impasto more than tripled in volume!

The leavening power of my lievito madre is proving very potent. However acidity issues persist. Primo impasto pH: Initial: 6.27 End: 4.21. It just goes to show that simply pushing the yeast potency is not enough to mitigate acidification.

The risen primo impasto had quite a strong acetic aroma emanating from it while on the counter, however the taste was very different and tasted completely non-sour with just a very pleasant carbonic fizz.

The final mix was relatively easy to do and went without issue. By the end of the mix the finished dough was supple and elastic and when removed from the mixing bowl was a very extensible and relaxed to cover a large part of the counter. pH = 4.5 (too low - should be >5).

I rounded the dough a couple of times during the rest period to encourage it to hold a higher form before performing the final round and placing into the pandoro mould.

Finished dough - After mix rest then rounded (pagnottella)

Finished dough moulded

Fully proofed

The proof was done at a slightly lower temperature of 24-25C than the 28-30 prescribed. Proof time 9 hours instead of 6 but that's about right considering the temperature difference.



Just in time for Christmas, I wanted to get a Holiday bread bake in before the festive season began. It's been years since I baked a Pandoro and I'm glad I did. Being less dicey than Panettone since it doesn't require hanging which can be make or break!


Happy Christmas all.


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Spontaneous fermentation of water soaked raisins (sultanas). 3rd life cycle (refresh) [pic]

Kept @ 27°C for 3 weeks (once a week remake with water and fruit + previous ferment top-up)

Then used to seed a flour and water dough at a concurrent 27°C, kept in a volume of water.

7 days and 7 refreshes @ 1:1 or thereabouts daily (24hrs).

Next 8hrs, then 4hrs x3.

Typical float time = ~45 mins in all cases.

Looking good for a viable vigorous starter.

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Admittedly, I am aware and I have spoken emphatically about the importance of calibrating pH meters. My training in the wine lab has instilled the habit of calibration each and every time prior to use, in that environment.

Why then have I been so lax with my bread and dough meter! Perhaps it is the domestic setting that gives rise to such a laid back approach. Then again, even in the work place I have been deemed as a 'laid back' kind of guy!

The other day I was drinking some deliciously well-crafted Pinot Grigio made in the mountainous terrain of Veneto, Italy. Since my dough pH meter is always to hand, curiously I decided to measure the pH of my wine.

It very quickly settled on pH 3.70.

Being very familiar with the pH ranges of a vast array of foods and beverages, and in particular different types of wine, I was immediately aware that this reading was not at all close to what it should be!

I therefore calibrated my meter and measured the Pinot Grigio again. Hey presto; it came up as pH 3.26. That's much more like it for this type of wine!

Long story short, all the while I thought my Lievito Madre starter was not reaching the target pH, while in fact with the new calibration it measures as expected, circa 4.1 for the end of a refresh and between 3.8-3.9 after the overnight phase.

No point measuring pH if the readings are not accurate!

Calibrate! Calibrate! Calibrate!


LM rinfresco and LM after overnight phase.

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Federica Russo Colomba (classico)
egg yolks14.3%53050
egg yolks14.3%53050
candied orange72.8%2700255


Still issues with acidity / pH. But it was easy enough to make!


2 ½ Days later I made the cut.

Colomba and coffee.

Tastes good! Really good!!! 👍


Happy Easter!

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So, it has been several years since I was baking ‘Grandi lievitati’ regularly. Getting back into the swing of things, and to some degree relearning what I once had figured out, or was at the very least working with more successfully…

Mastering Lievito Madre is no joke and is perhaps the most difficult accomplishment for any sourdough baker that wishes to really understand and control the many intricate nuances of fermentation and manipulate the biological and chemical processes which can ultimately make or break one’s endeavours.

While re-treading this old ground I have been faced with seemingly unruly souring and not even a high dose of sugar could stand in its way.

Many leavened primo impastos were abandoned, the last one was so sour it plagued the kitchen with a mildly sweet but also pungently acetic aroma. Evilness!

In the last few days, I am sure I have made progress in my understanding… In fact, through mulling over and mentally digesting recent occurrences I have come up with a rule based solution that really has shown promise in establishing what I’m looking for in a perfectly mature LM.

During the process of attaining that outcome I did manage to successfully bake a panettone. Despite suffering from a persistently overt acidity problem which then in turn leads to other problems such as dough handling and leavening issues.

The remaining ingredients (butter, aromatic mix (honey, orange zest and vanilla), egg yolks and fruit) to be added to the mix so far which consisted of the leavened primo, flour and sugar.

Last step adding the fruit..



Rheology issues. Dough was too keen to to tear while shaping indicating an excess of acetic acid which makes gluten tight / tenacious.

This panettone was on the right track but made before I had fully fixed the fermentation issue. Consequently it needed more time to proof, time that I didn't have, so I baked it early while only half way up the mould.


Natural Yeast115063.25
Egg Yolks90049.5
Egg Yolks160088
Candied Orange100055
Candied Citron50027.5
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It has been a considerable blot of time since my regularly featured Italian enriched doughs were frequently demonstrated. I am out of practice, and in need to validate my reputation, even if to myself but not only that but to exceed where I recognised the faults. Now armed with a new bit of kit, the Hanna “Bread and Dough” pH meter, I wanted to go deeper where such tracking was once a novel endeavour, the time had come to up my game as it were.

Most of the Grande lievitata I have produced to date have always suffered from a lack of exceptional fermentation control. The end product didn’t quite reach the excellence I craved. Flavour and softness – a sign of mastery, was just a little lacking. Still, in technical terms I have enough knowledge to know how and where in my processing can I tweak things to bring about those much desired improvements.

A story from several years ago… The best Panettone I ever tasted was crafted by the masterful hand of one “Rocco” of Wimbledon, London. I was given his contact by chef Theo Randall (Intercontinental, Park Lane, London) where I proudly presented him (Rocco) with the Pandoro I made. His commanding presence was not shy just like most Italians as he swiftly instructed his colleague to slice open the Pandoro. From one half of it he put his nose to the cross section and inhaled deeply, examining the aromas carefully. “You used cocoa butter?” he asked, to which I confirmed. He took a slice and ate a piece. He was not blown away, not much reaction really came forth, quite frankly. My memory fades in the intermediary of events but I’ll never forget his considerate but very truthful remarks. He said as far as “The Pandoro” goes I’d give yours a 3 out of ten but for a home baker to make this I’d give it an 8 out of ten. He offered me some of his Panettone to try and it was a revelation to say the least! The flavour was abundant and so expressive, and the softness was like dream of decadent delights. Amazing! After our talk and a potential job offer to work for him, I left his shop with my tail between my legs and a loaf of Durum bread under my arm. Although as I am my own strongest critic, Rocco made it clear what deep down I already knew. I knew then I could do better.

Now where was I…

So, between work I have been maintaining and feeding my Lievito Madre starter with great frequency and measuring the pH persistently. The data I have recorded, see: Impromptu LM pH data (Temp) | The Fresh Loaf

From feed cycle 15a I attempted my third run at an enriched dough. The primo impasto of the first didn’t rise at all in allotted 12 hours, the second rose well but was way too acidic and the third, again it rose well and was still too acidic but not quite as bad as last time. I decided to see it through anyhow.

The formula I had been working on was The Colomba di Pasqua formulated by “Panettone god” Iginio Massari.


 Massari Colomba1x1Kg 
flour (W300-330)2700194194
flour (W360)7005070
orange paste10070
orange cubes3000215110
total flour3882.76278.59298.48
sugar + honey52%52%47%

Some deviations from the intended but still very faithful to the original recipe. I used stronger flour than specified but cut it with some weaker flour also.

LM maintenance, W410.
Primo impasto, 80/20 split of W410 + W210.
Secondo impasto, W410.

All Tipo 00 (0.55% max. ash) as specified.

However, because things were not where they needed to be in terms of the chemical properties, namely the pH the dough handled not quite as it should. The dough was a little slack and a wanting of that vibrantly elasticity consequently led to the slightly dodgy shaping.

The oven spring was almightily substantial rising more than double its fully leavened height.

And finally, the inversion as required was a fraught with difficulty. Within seconds of removing this from the oven I could see it sinking like a deflating balloon as I tried to figure out how to skewer it in the most optimal support giving way. It had pretty much flattened in those few seconds as I tried to single handily flip this thing upside down, it was so very tricky… Like trying to upturn a bag filled with water.

In the end, it looks the part, but it was a “wrong 'un” from the start.

Don’t expect a glorious crumb shot. Just an erroneous one…

The journey continues…



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In recent times I have been baking exclusively with durum wheat and the results have got progressively better with each bake. I wanted to explore the typical traditional process whereby an old-dough technique is employed although in real terms I applied the method in my own way.

Continuous old-dough process:

Old-dough (sourdough) (60% hydration and 2% salt).
refreshed 1:1 (old-dough:flour) + enough water to make a firm dough.

Make bread using refreshed old dough at 20%, reserve a piece.

In all cases the reserved old-dough and its refreshed version were stored in water to help speed up fermentation and reduce acid development, this being a common approach with lievito madre storage.



The following durum loaf was made at 80% hydration. A two-hour autolyse at 60% hydration was employed and the final mix was worked to full development. 


Old dough in water:


The loaf made following this one, despite all quantities being the same was much softer, something I was aiming for as the process continued. However, adding the last of the water broke the dough - in split, like curdling, thankfully I managed to work it back together with slap and folds. The lesson being that over-hydration with durum wheat is perhaps more of an issue when the gluten is highly resistant.

Semola rimacinata can be difficult to work with because its gluten is overly tenacious (high P/L values) which means it requires much energy input to work it into a plastic and elastic dough. Using a starter that is on the reductive spectrum really helps to improve the properties whereas acidity makes the situation worse. Durum wheat works best where acid content is very low and the salt in the process positively helps to bring about that condition, improving dough properties.


Numerical representation of the method.

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Super-massive oven spring!

Based on a formula by Iginio Massari.

I was able to add extra water to the dough because the strength was so good.

Marriage's flour is excellent!


1st dough (12hrs @ 26C)




lievito madre (50% hydration)






egg yolk





2nd dough (bulk 1hr, 7hrs @ 26C)




vanilla flavour








egg yolk







sultanas and candied orange




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The aroma is unbelievable!

Made with Stoates (Whole Spelt) and Marriage's (Superfines) Flour, tap water (pH 7.8) and sea salt. 

Refresh (aka levain) 4 hrs @ 30C
50g LM (from bath)
50g Stoates Whole SPelt
15g water
= very firm 45% est. hydration.

400g flour (50% Spelt, 50% white)
111g LM as above
280g water
9.5g salt
10g olive oil

Bulk 2hrs @ 28C

Shaped, not moulded/freestanding and proved until triple (proper triple!) 5hrs@ 27C.


A few more pictures including crumb.


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