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.

For New Year’s Luck: A Quick and Tasty Blackeyed Pea Salad

Ingredients for blackeyed pea salad. How's this for a "still life" in my kitchen? That's one of my Christmas cactuses just starting to bloom.

Especially in the South, people eat blackeyed peas in some form for good luck on New Year’s Day.  My taste for blackeyed peas hasn’t grown all that much over the years; without some kind of disguise, these little brown nubbins taste grey and musky (that’s the best way I can describe it).  They can, however, with the addition of other ingredients, be transformed into a delicious dish.  (I guess you could say these are blackeyed peas “in drag”.)

Nowadays, because of regional and international influence, there’s a wider variety of similar beans/peas that are available on the store shelves.  If you take a chance and try them, you’ll probably find some new additions to your menu.

Here’s an easily-made salad that I put together that perhaps you’ll like.  There’s no guarantee, though, that it will help you achieve your New Year’s luck.

New Year’s Day Blackeyed Pea Salad

Ingredients:

1 can of blackeyed peas drained

1 can of field peas drained

1 crisp apple peeled, cored and roughly chopped

1/2 the juice of one lemon (that it was given to you from a local tree all the better)

2 tablespoons sugar

2 strips very crisply cooked bacon, broken into small pieces

1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Salt and pepper

Directions:  Put the chopped apples in a good-sized bowl.  (Save time by using your favorite serving bowl.)  Squeeze the lemon juice over the apple pieces; add in the sugar, and toss together.  Add the drained peas, bacon, and nuts.  Shake on some salt and pepper.  Gently mix and then refrigerate for several hours.

Variations:  Use just blackeyed peas if you like or can’t find field peas.  Add the bacon and nuts right before serving to give the salad more crunch.  Chopped celery might be a good addition too.