My friend Tom has spent much of his professional life learning and writing about food. Several times a week he attends elaborate dinners at some of the country's best restaurants and hotels. The food he is accustomed to sampling at these events is prepared by some very talented chefs.
And so it might surprise you to learn that, in some matters culinary, my friend can be a real pinhead.
He won't eat Asian food of any type because his mommy used to feed him crappy Chinese takeout when he was really really little. Nor will he eat seafood except under duress, also something he blames on his poor mother.
But it is on the matter of panettone where my friend and I have often come close to blows. Tom's position has always been that he never met a box of the Italian sweet bread that he has liked. And that because of this one does not exist.
"Why not just eat the cardboard box that it comes in?" he has said to me many times when we visit over the holidays. "It's just as dry and doesn't have the calories."
Except that this past holiday season Tom showed up at my doorstep one afternoon with a grin on his ugly kisser and a half-eaten panettone tumbling out from his backpack.
"I don't know why you say this stuff is so dry," he teased while releasing the fragrant bread from its plastic wrap. "This is delicious. And moist!
"Hell, Meatball, I might even bake it for you one of these days."
Turns out that he did. And he didn't.
Yesterday I received not a box of bread from Tom but an email with photographs. Of the panettone that he had made for... Who the hell cares, it wasn't for me.
I had to settle for the instructions on how to make one of my favorite breads. And so will you.
Just one thing about the recipe, in case you ever think about trying it yourself. Tom used the King Arthur Flour Panettone Recipe but fiddled with it some. He tells me he'd feel a lot better if people went with the King's recipe, and I'd have to admit that I would too.
This is the biga, a starter of flour, water and a small amount of yeast, which fermented for about 14 hours.
The biga is added to a mixture containing flour, eggs, butter, flavorings, yeast, sugar and grated nutmeg. This gets kneaded in a machine with a dough hook for five minutes and then finished by hand for another two minutes. The dough should be silky, not sticky.
After the dough rests for an hour, flatten into a rectangle and add golden raisins and candied orange peel.
Knead the fruit into the dough.
Tom doesn't have a panettone pan, so he used the pot that he uses for his morning oatmeal. The pan was buttered and lined with parchment so that it could rise above the pan's height. The dough doubled in size.
Here's the finished loaf after peeling away the parchment. Looks just like it came out of a fancy box from Milano, no?
The crust, says my friend, was crisp and buttery, the crumb dense but well textured. The flavor? Spot on. Unique in the way that only panettone can be.
Not bad for a pinhead, I guess.