Panettone, Plants, and Politics: Enough Alliteration for a Drizzly Day

It’s one of those luxurious Sunday mornings, luxurious but lazy.  Outside it’s a grey, drizzly day, but because tomorrow is a holiday, I’m not feeling the pressure to get things done for the work week ahead.

Two airy loaves of panettone, ready to go into the oven.

Even so, I’ve gotten a lot accomplished already.  I’ve put together panettone dough and have the oven getting heated up so that by the time I get this written, I can go down to the kitchen and put the dough in the pans.  I haven’t made panettone since about this time last year, but I know no one else who makes it, and I’ve made enough adjustments to the recipe (check out my recipe) I originally got from the Joy of Cooking to make this one mine.  I think there will be enough for two loaves:  a big one that I can take to work to share in the break room and a smaller one that I can grab a slice for breakfast on the road or make super-delish French toast next weekend.

Unharmed by the low temperatures earlier in the week, this tomato plant seems to be enjoying the Sunday drizzle.

I’ve also brought in all the sheets that I used to cover potted plants and my tomatoes in the garden.  Though the thermometer read 25° F. one morning when I got up with Annie, most of my plants came out unscathed.  Apparently, the low temperatures didn’t stay long enough to do much damage.  The tomatoes that I set in in

Tiny, new lettuce sprouts peeking through the cool January soil.

January (Can you deal with two prepositions in a row?) seem none the worse for wear, and by the looks, there may be a tomato or two for the plate in a few weeks.  I didn’t cover the pepper plants, so they look somewhat peaked from the cold, but I want to replace them with different varieties in the spring anyway.

It was also a good morning to grind the beans for fresh coffee.  I don’t drink coffee on an every-day basis, but I like a cup from Starbuck’s or freshly brewed at home for a treat.  I’m on my second cup now, and I definitely feel the caffeine.  I doubt whether I’ll take a Sunday afternoon nap today.  In addition to the coffee, I made a nice two-egg omelette filled with fresh pico de gallo–store-bought, but still full of fresh veggie taste.  (I noticed that when I was back home for the holidays that I am not the only one in my family that says “store-boughten” as opposed to the grammatically-correct “store-bought”.  I love the sound of colloquial English and think that “computer-ese” with all its LOLs and other abbreviation is making language much less expressive and more robotic.)

On a different note this pre-MLK Day Sunday, I can’t help but mention (I have to say “mention” or someone may think I’m being vitriolic) how these supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans who got elected in November are really having problems and don’t really seem all that fiscally conservative, let alone, fiscally adept. 

Here in Texas, Rick Perry, who has been governor for 10 years and campaigned on his financial expertise at balancing the budget before last November’s elections, now finds himself facing a $27 billion shortfall for the state.  In my old home state of Kansas, another supposedly fiscal conservative, newly-elected Governor Sam Brownback’s budget is bigger than that of the current one, which was created while Democrats were in the governor’s seat.  According to the Wichita newspaper,  Brownback “proposal increased spending from the state general fund to $6.1 billion in fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, from $5.7 billion in the current budget.”   In Perry’s case, he has been in the governor’s office since 2000, coming into the position after George W. Bush was elected President.  The problems in the state budget can’t be blamed on Democrats because the legislature is also heavily Republican.  In Kansas, while the previous governor was a Democrat, the legislature has been controlled by Republicans for decades, perhaps since the founding of the state in 1861 (I’ll have to check my history books.)  In both states, the legislatures must approve the states’ budgets. 

Whether Republican or Democrat, these days we really need some people in office in our state that have some business sense, and are fiscally adept.  Just saying you are fiscally conservative doesn’t really make a state more fiscally sound.

Mmmm.  Now the smell of baking panettone is wafting up my stairway.  I’d better go check on those goodies!

And here they are! Don't they look tempting right out of the oven?

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Homemade Panettone and Painting–Patience Is the Recipe for Success

I’m one of the lucky ones to have a three-day weekend, and though I have a number of tasks on my to-do list, I’ve been taking a leisurely pace getting things done.  At the moment, I’m waiting for some spackle to dry so that I can paint around the window in this room and finish it up.  I had promised myself that I would have this room painted more than two weeks ago, but this first go-round made the walls look too much the color of mint ice cream.  That coat turned into being the primer, and now it’s still green, but a nice, fresh green called Cool Cucumber, which makes this small room feel bright and maybe larger.

Between my efforts at getting the room painted, I baked a couple of loaves of panettone.  I doubt that there’s much Italian DNA in me, but after having tried the store-bought kind that appears near holiday time, I decided that an attempt at some homemade panettone would be my first real baking in my new kitchen.  I must admit I like the store-bought kind because of its texture, something akin to the light, stretchiness of crescent rolls or cinnamon rolls.  This is what makes panettone different than some other nut and fruit breads; it’s a leavened bread rather than a quick bread.

Because of the rising process, interspersing the baking and painting worked well.  The recipe I used was one which I found in my old Joy of Cooking, with some of my own adaptations.  I decided to use up some of the shelled nuts still left from Christmas and a lone apple, which, otherwise, would soon have seen its better days.

Homemade Panettone

Ingredients:

1 apple peeled and chopped into small pieces

1/2 cup white raisins (any type of dried fruit works well, as do fresh blueberries–a cup and a half of fruit total seems about right to me)

1 cup (approximately) orange liqueur (I used the cheapest brand I could find–still not cheap)

1 cup warm (not hot) water

2 packages active dry yeast

4 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 stick (1/2 cup) of softened butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2-4 eggs room temperature (2 eggs give a definite bread texture; 4 eggs give a texture more like that of cake)

Zest of one orange (I thinly peeled an orange, then pulsed the peel a couple of times in the food processor to grate it)

1 cup of coarsely broken nuts (I used walnuts)

Directions:

Put the fruit in a small saucepan and nearly cover with the orange liqueur.  Heat just to a boil; then immediately turn off the heat and let steep and cool.  You can do this while you’re making your morning coffee.

Put the warm water into a good-sized bowl and stir in the dry yeast until it is completely dissolved.  Let rest for 3-5 minutes; then stir in 1 cup of the flour and mix to get an even consistency.  Cover with a cloth and set aside for about 1/2 hour.  When ready,  it should have a light, spongy texture.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer.  Slowly add in the sugar and salt until well-blended.  Mix in the eggs one at a time and the cooled liquid drained from the fruit.  Then blend in the yeast-flour sponge.  Mix well.  Slowly beat in the remaining 3 1/2 cups of flour.  Fold in the fruit and nuts with a spatula or your hands.

Cover the bowl of dough with a cloth and let rise for about two hours or until about double in size.

Punch down and divide  and put into baking tins.  Traditional panettone looks round and tall.  Joy of Cooking suggests using 1-pound coffee cans, but most coffee isn’t packed in metal cans these days.  I used silicon and metal loaf pans and liked the result.  If you use a metal baking pan, try cutting a piece of brown paper (grocery sack type) the size of the bottom; grease the paper as well as the sides of the pan before putting in the dough.  This recipe makes two good-sized loaves.  After putting the dough in the pans, cover with a cloth and let rise one more time, at least 1/2 hour.

You may want to brush melted butter on the top before baking, but I didn’t do that and the crust looks nice.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Joy of Cooking says to bake for 1/2 hour.  Mine took longer.  The smaller loaf in the metal pan took 45 minutes and the large loaf in the silicon pan took 1 hour.  I always look at the crust.  When the crust is a nice, golden color all over (I don’t want it burnt), then the inside of the bread should also be done too.

My rendition of panettone is quite a bit different than the kind I bought in the box, which I like because of the light texture.  The texture of my homemade panettone is heavier, like a lot of good homemade.  However, the taste is another matter.  Every bite of my version is full of tasty fruit and crunchy nuts, with just a hint of orange that comes almost as an afterthought.

Baking most kinds of bread takes time and patience.  These days because of busy schedules, people are satisfied to buy ready-made or mixes.  However, I think that when time is not so much of a factor, there is a real pleasure in making bread from scratch, or any other foods, for that matter, working through the whole process.  You can choose  exactly what ingredients you use; for me, experimenting is half the fun.   What’s more, it’s hard to compare anything to the taste of homemade.