Thursday, December 15, 2011

Orange Sour Cherry Panettone Made in the No-knead Style

I am grateful for my wonderful neighbors.  They are the kind of people who will wander around your house the night before Thanksgiving checking to make sure no one's broken in while you are on vacation.  They are the kind of people who you can call up and ask if your kids can play at their house while you make a run to Target for those few things you "forgot".  You can shoot them a text asking for a few eggs because you're in the middle of making a cake and didn't check your fridge before you started.  They bring you beautiful gourmet olive oil and vinegar because they know you enjoy that sort of thing.  They are the kind of neighbors who I wish everyone could have because they make living in our neighborhood a joy.
My wonderful neighbors deserve a wonderful Christmas gift.  Homemade, of course.  This year I wanted to do something a bit different.  I was completely cookied-out after the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and wanted to come up with an enjoyable gift that wouldn't keep me in the kitchen for days making it.  So I dug way back in my food memories to the red box that sat on my grandparents' buffet every Christmas next to the giant bottle of sambuca (which came complete with it's own stand and tap).  Even though there was a panettone in that red box, I never remember anyone actually eating it.  It was just there, like another Christmas decoration.  A hold-out from the old country where panettone is a traditional bread eaten at Christmas-time.  Surely, it couldn't be so bad that no one wanted to eat it, could it?
I confess, I never actually ate a piece until this week, and that was of the panettone that I made myself.  But I have seen others eat it and it always looked dry and had weird bits of candied fruit in it.  I knew I could do better- and I did.  My panettone is soft (almost-brioche-like on the first day), wonderfully fragrant, and so much easier to make than any of the traditional recipes that I found.  I will definitely make this again, maybe for my grandmother to remind her of the old days.  I know it will bring a smile to her face.  And judging by the looks of gratitude my neighbors gave me when I showed up at their houses with beautifully wrapped and ribboned panettone, I'm pretty sure my work was worth it.
Orange Sour Cherry Panettone
Adapted from the fine folks at Artisan Bread in Five.
This recipe makes three loaves of panettone.  I used molds purchased from Sur la Table that were 5 inches in diameter and 4 inches tall.  You can also purchase them online from Amazon or King Arthur Flour.  If you don't want to go through the trouble of buying the special paper molds, a great alternative would be to use a well-washed 28 oz tomato can with the labeled removed.

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tbs yeast
1 1/2 tbs kosher salt
1/2 cup honey
8 eggs, lightly beaten
zest of 1 medium orange
1 tbs fresh orange juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup butter (2 sticks), melted and slightly cooled
7 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups dried cherries (I used dried sour montmorency cherries that I found at Trader Joe's)

In a large mixing bowl or container (at least 5 quart capacity), stir together the water, yeast, salt and honey to dissolve the yeast and honey.   Stir in the orange zest and juice, eggs, vanilla and butter.  Carefully add and mix in the flour, stirring until all the flour is incorporated.  Mix in the dried cherries.  Cover the bowl or container with a lid (leaving it just a tiny bit open) or plastic wrap.  Leave the dough on the counter for at least two hours, or until the dough has doubled in volume.
The dough can be used at this point, but the flavor develops even better when given some rest time in the refrigerator.  I put my container in the fridge for another 24 hours, finishing it the next afternoon.  If you choose to chill your dough, let it sit at room temperature for an hour for it to come to room temperature before shaping the loaves.

When you are ready to shape and bake your dough, generously spray the inside of three molds with non-stick spray or butter them.  Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Separate the dough into three pieces.  Shape each into a ball by stretching the top of the dough down around to the bottom.  Place the dough into the mold, seam side down.  Cover the loaves loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rise on the counter for another half hour.
Just before baking, brush the tops of the panettone with beaten egg and sprinkle with a bit of sugar (I used raw sugar because I thought those big crystals would be prettier than regular sugar).  Bake the panettone loaves for 45-50 minutes.  I placed my paper molds on a baking pan rather than right onto the rack in my oven.  I found it easier to get them in and out of the oven that way, and I used the pan to rotate the loaves back to front halfway through the baking time.  The loaves are finished when they are a deep golden brown on top and sound hollow when tapped from the bottom.  Let the loaves cool completely on a baking rack.

You can store the loaves in a plastic bread bag.  They will dry out a bit as they age, but that just adds to their charm.  

Serving suggestions:
~slice and serve with tea or coffee for dipping and sipping
~toast slices and serve with orange marmalade or butter flavored with honey and orange zest to up the orange factor
~slice and use to make french toast
~any leftover, slightly stale panettone would make a lovely bread pudding
~gift them to your friends and neighbors with a beautiful ribbon tied around the middle

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