The Fresh Loaf

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Naturally leavened panettone

pjkobulnicky's picture

Naturally leavened panettone

I have been making panettone for some years now but I have always done them with commercial yeast. I've always wanted to try to do them with natural leavening but everything i read about such recipes seemed to indicate that doing them was a life's work.  So, since I am retired and my life is fairly free and clear I thought I'd give it a go. I was also intrigued by this recipe: http:// 

It is one of their regional recipes, roughly translated from Italian and what can only be called a "Nonna" recipe ... some of this, a few of those, etc. There are lot of places where you just have to figure it out.  But, I was intrigued by the way the sugar and eggs were added as an emulsion, by the several dough builds and by the lack of any bulk fermentation of the final dough. 

The final and sole proof is in the molds themselves and I did mine at 55-60 degrees F for about 22 hrs. The dough barely came to the top of the molds at baking time but had spectacular oven spring. 

I will include my revised recipe below. As I warn in the recipe, this is not a dough for the challenged mixer.  My Bosch struggled.


(NOTE after original post) the starter in the recipe below should be the Italian Sweet Starter described here: )





Makes three large loaves



3 lb all-purpose flour

10 oz butter

¾ lb granulated sugar

milk ~ 7 T

7 oz sultanas

½ lb sourdough starter

4 1/2 oz candied orange

10 “large” egg yolks

3 “large” eggs

1 tsp vanilla

Zest of one orange and one lemon

1/2 - 1 oz salt

package 12” long bamboo skewers




Note … this is based on a folk recipe from Barilla. That recipe made a number of unstated assumptions. The recipe below is my more detailed interpretation.


Morning day 1


Early AM: 


Build 8 oz active starter at about 50% hydration (approximately 4.0 oz flour, 2.0 oz water and 2.0 oz active Italian Sweet starter.  Mix into firm ball and let rise until doubled in volume, about 2-3 hrs. When doubled move to first dough.


First dough by hand:

Put 5.5 oz. of flour onto the work surface, crumble the sourdough starter in and slowly work in 4T warm water, 1 T at a time.  Knead to a firm dough. Shape into ball. Put in a bowl to double, about 3 hours at 75 F. Move to second dough. 


Second dough by hand:

Put 9 oz. of flour onto the work surface and place the risen dough in the centre. Incorporate the first dough into the flour while adding about 7 T of milk, one T at a time.  Knead thoroughly into a smooth dough. Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let rise overnight at 55F. It should triple.


Dice the candied citron and orange, soak the sultanas (and citrus if it is dry) in brandy overnight.



Morning day 2


Set the fruit to drain thoroughly.


In a bain-marie, dissolve the 8 oz sugar into 4 oz warm water to make a syrup, then add the whole eggs and egg yolks and cook while whisking only until all is fully incorporated, smooth and foamy, not to a custard stage. Cool and whisk in the vanilla.  


Final Dough in a stand mixer:  (note, this is a significant dough that requires a tough stand mixer).


Pour 2, lbs of flour into the mixer. Add salt. Put 2 oz. of flour on the work surface. Put the second dough on the flour and cut it into small pieces. Put the second dough and any remaining flour from the work surface into the mixer.  Add the contents of the bain-marie and mix. This is a very stiff dough and your mixer may strain. If so, add water one T at a time up to 3-4 T. Mix until dough is at windowpane stage of gluten development. Then add the softened butter, a bit at a time. Continue mixing until you have a satiny dough. Add the zest and mix until incorporated. 


Turn the dough out and spread. Incorporate the orange and sultanas using the letter fold method followed by some additional folds to distribute the fruit as evenly as possible. 


Divide the dough into three equal pieces (about 2.2 lb each)  shape into rounds and place into 7 inch panettone molds. Place them in a room temperature, draft free place covered with plastic to keep the tops from hardening (you may need to very lightly brush the tops with water or finely mist during the long rise).  Let rise until the centers nearly reach the tops of the molds. At 55-60F this may take 20-24 hrs.


Preheat oven to 400F


When the oven its up to temperature, make a large cross incision on the surface of each panettone, insert a knob of butter into the cross then place loaves into the oven. After ten minutes in the oven turn the heat down to 375  and after 10 minutes more  carefully rotate the loaves and turn the heat down to 350.  Bake an additional 25 minutes. If the tops appear to be getting too dark, place aluminum foil caps on them. 

While baking suspend 2 stout( 1X 3’s worked for me)  boards across the backs of two chairs such that there is about a 7 inch gap between them. When the panettone are done, remove them from the oven and immediately insert two skewers through the panettone molds, parallel to each other and about 1 inch from the bottom.  Invert the panettone and hang each from the boards by their skewers. Let cool hanging. When cool they may be placed upright and the skewers removed.







Ru007's picture

I've been looking up panettone recipes, i'm keen to try one this year. Your post is very encouraging, looks like you got excellent results. 

Thanks for sharing. 

Happy baking. 

Floydm's picture

Very nice! Would you mind if I featured this on the homepage for a bit? It is very appropriate for the season.

Danni3ll3's picture

That was definitely a labour of love. I hope that they taste great!

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Knowing what a challenge these rich and tasty holiday treats can be, I applaud you all the more for tackling this "nonna" recipe, for making it your own, and getting the kind of results you did...and with natural leavening, to boot. Well done, Paul. You are an artist!

dabrownman's picture

Canlt wait to see the crumb on these!  Very well done and Happy baking.  I have got to get off my lazy loaf and get some panettone baked for the holidays!

dabrownman's picture

Can't wait to see the crumb on these!  Very well done and Happy baking.  I have got to get off my lazy loaf and get some panettone baked for the holidays!

bread1965's picture

PJ.. those look remarkable! Thank you for sharing. T = tablespoon and not teaspoons, correct?  Could you show us a crumb shot? I can only imagine how great they smell! Very well done.. oh to be retired!!

pjkobulnicky's picture

I love this site but I hate the blog interface. I have a crumb shot but can't easily figure out how to post it as a comment. 

So, crumb is very good, stringy, but not Perfect. Slightly more hydration would help. But, it also depends on one's ideal. Not sure if Nonna would even care. Tastes more like a bread than a cake. Nice crust. Final assessment? Good enough to share with fellow baking professionals. 

Cecilia.Bedelia's picture

Beautiful! I'm also in panettone-mode; I've decided to test a few recipes this year, and have already gotten Rose Levy Beranbaum's Golden Panettone checked off my list. Out of curiosity, do you know the specific reason that your recipe calls for the eggs to be cooked with the sugar syrup? I haven't seen that in my research.

pjkobulnicky's picture

There are two possible reasons why you cook the sugar and eggs in the Nonna Panettone recipe (and remember, "cook" is loosely applied here ... "heat" may be a better term). The most straightforward is "That's the perceived wisdom and technique passed down to Nonna from her Nonna. " It was not unknown in Italy. See, for example, Zabaglione recipes.  The more analytical is that it probably helps to coat the sugar with the fat of the yolks more evenly and thus helps to protect the glutens from the damaging effects of the sugar. That's an educated guess. I'd be curious to hear from others who know more about food chemistry.

PalwithnoovenP's picture

I always though panettone is a very technical bread so I'm surprised about the nonna recipe! What kind of sourdough starter did you use? Did you follow the traditional Italian sweet starter?

pjkobulnicky's picture

I used my trusty all-purpose starter. I don't know about the Italian sweet starter. What can you tell me?

PalwithnoovenP's picture

 A firm (50%) starter kept at a fairly warm temperature fed every 4 hours. I always see it in panettone recipes and other sweet Italian naturally leavened super rich breads. I read panettone will not be the same or at least not behave the same way if you use a different natural leavening; mwilson knows this very well.

pjkobulnicky's picture

I read this:

This explains the parts of the original Barilla recipe where the starter was not specified. It was not specified because everyone baking Panettone in Italy would have known "Sweet Starter".  So, thanks so much.  I will see if I can edit the recipe.

pjkobulnicky's picture

Thanks for all the complements and comments.  Much appreciated.

I want to pass along a few additional comments:

The consensus of my family is that the loaves need more salt. You may want to bump it up a tad to as much as a ounce.

I apologize for using ounces. I much prefer grams but I was busy just trying to convert the original recipe into something technically replicable and the original recipe was in ounces and volume measurements.. 

The most important point is that this is still a work in progress. I think I got pretty close but it's not perfect. I still am unsure about final dough hydration levels and proofing times and temperatures.  Please feel free to experiment and comment on improvements or failures. We learn by doing. 


inumeridiieri's picture


joc1954's picture

I will bake something like panettone - a typical Slovenian cake now for the Christmas and I will definitely use sourdough this time. Have to see how it will turn out.

Well done and happy baking!


alfanso's picture

And I wholeheartedly agree with inumeridiieri - Compliments!  alan

SusanMcKennaGrant's picture

Wow, Bravo! Panettone (and their cousins Pandoro and Colomba) are so challenging. Yours look amazing. Would love to see the crumb.

I studied with a baker in the Veneto years ago. He had a trick he claimed added strength to the levain for these butter rich doughs.  After feeding, he would wrap his lievito madre tightly in a cloth and bind it with string. Then he left it in a bucket of water to ferment! The dough would float to the top when it was ready to use. Don't know if there is any science behind this. I used to make them this way and the results were excellent, but I never did a side by side test to see if there is any difference.  Would be curious to see if anyone here has any thoughts?

pjkobulnicky's picture

Petraia ... I am always torn between the science of the commercial baker and the art of the home baker.  My sons are commercial bakers and they deal in bulk and in recipes that are engineered.  I am influenced by them. As a home baker I try to do what I can do in the home without controlled environments and specialized equipment. So, I try to walk a fine line between trying to duplicate what is done in the commercial bakery and what traditional home bakers have always done. It often makes me just shake my head in frustration. 

I like the idea of wrapping the dough and floating it in water but the engineer in me says, "What temperature should the water be kept at if you are floating the dough in it?" Obviously, if you let the water cool it will be counter productive.  On the other hand, if the water is too warm the butter will melt out.  This sounds like a task for an immersion sous vide device to keep the temperature at 80 +- F.  Nonna would have had a kitchen that would have been at a constant temperature :)

What do you think?

SusanMcKennaGrant's picture

i think panettone and its cousins are the most challenging breads for a home baker. Especially as they are traditionally made in winter when so many of us don't like to keep the heat on all night. In Italy these breads have always been in the realm of the professional baker.

The baker in Italy used tepid room temp water and since he was wrapping the fed starter and not the enriched dough there was no butter to worry about. A circulator  might be a good idea to keep the temp stable if you own one. I used to keep it in a plate warming cupboard at 25c.

pjkobulnicky's picture

only the starter.  Sorry, what was i thinking. I'll try that the next time.  I have an immersable aquarium heater that I can set to 85-90 degrees F since my understanding is that one wants a sweet starter  (very little lactic acid development) which is enhanced at higher room temps.

Thanks Petraia.

cfraenkel's picture

I am wondering if I could make "sweet Italian starter" using Yeast Water.  I'm guessing it would be the closest thing I have around.  I love pannetone, and have been making my own for the last few years, I think I even have some candied orange peel left from my last bake.  These look great, and I love the natural leavening.  I've bookmarked this one for my Christmas Baking.