Panettone: The Seven-Day Bread


If you are among the people who believe that nothing says “The Holidays” like a festive loaf of panettone, let me just say this: You are mad.

This bread, it is evil.

It will drive you insane, make you tear your hair out. You may find yourself repeatedly staring intently at an unrising bowl of taupe glop, thinking, “Just, why, God, WHY?”

I mean this for the folks out there attempting to bake it, that is. (If you’re the sort who buys panettone in a store then, sure, go for it. I’m sure that’s pretty harmless.)

The problem I had here was holiday spirit.

Recently, I found myself so infused with the stuff that I decided to tackle panettone for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge

With Ella Fitzgerald’s “Christmas Song” burbling in my head, I merrily set about buying the ingredients — rye flour, pineapple juice and bits of dried mangoes, cranberries and pears.

When I sat down to look at the recipe, I knew I was in trouble: This bread requires a starter that takes five days to make. And when that’s done? The dough takes two more days.

A seven-day bread? This was putting Heston Blumenthal’s 12-hour bolognese to shame.

But the holiday spirit was unflagging — so, the baking began.

Now, if you ever try this, this is what you’ll be looking at over four days.

A lot.

What it is is seed culture — a mix of rye flour and pineapple juice, left to ferment and rise slowly at room temperature.

Every day you have to feed it a little by adding more flour and pineapple juice or water. 

And then just let it sit and watch it grow.

I began to understand how it might feel to actually watch grass grow.

Except grass would be nowhere near as noxious. This recipe actually states at one point: “Do not be put off by the strong aroma of the dough.”

Another favorite bit: “try not to breathe as (the gas) escapes — the carbonic gas mixed with ethanol fumes will knock you across the room!”

After five days of this (with a very patient husband politely ignoring the fumes and bowls of bizarre piles of goo), however, the starter was ready to go.

I mixed up a sponge using the starter, milk and flour and let that ferment overnight. Then I chopped up raisins, dried mango, papaya, cranberries and pears and mixed those with orange and vanilla extracts and brandy and let that sit out overnight.

The next day, that all got mixed together with more flour, sugar, yeast and almonds, forming an incredibly liquid dough that just would not rise.

After hours upon hours of staring at it and hoping for some action, I finally scooped some into muffin tins to make mini panettoni …

… and the rest into a large, round tin to make a cake-sized version.

How did it taste?

Dry. Mealy. Sort of like “Big Waste of Time” encapsulated in a loaf.

I can think of a thousand things I probably did wrong — I probably should have used more flavorful fruits such as dried cherries, instead of attempting a tropical take on panettone with mangoes and papayas. Perhaps my water was the wrong temperature. Maybe my apartment’s aggressively tropical heating system ruined the dough.

Whatever it was, I probably will never find out. (I’m certainly not attempting panettone again.)

I will say this, though: Bah, humbug.


Unlike me, some other Bread Baker’s Apprentice bakers managed to produce beautiful panettone. Check these out:

Carolyn‘s at Two Skinny Jenkins

Cathy‘s at Bread Experience

Daniel‘s at Ahrelich Gesagt

Mags‘s at The Other Side of 50

Sally‘s at Bewitching Kitchen

For others, check out Yeastspotting.


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14 thoughts on “Panettone: The Seven-Day Bread

  1. You made it! My mother has been asking me to make it and I was going to skip ahead (I’m still on Italian bread), then I saw it needed a barm, etc. Sorry it didn’t turn out for you. IT looks good though.

  2. OH I laughed my way thru this post. Part of me laughed in a sad live vicariously thru your pain pity laugh as we bailed on it when it failed after 6 days for us. And part of me laughed manically because HA HA WE BAILED ON IT! ;-)

  3. What a sad and funny post. And I suspect you’re not the only one who had problems with it. This is not an easy recipe.
    The main issue with your method is that a 5-day-old starter is not strong enough to raise or add much flavor to bread. On my sourdough starter blog,, I advocate using your starter right away, but with the caution that it won’t have much oomph at first.
    I made the panettone and really enjoyed it. I’m not sure how often I would make it. It was a good celebration bread; but it’s not a traditional holidy bread for me, so I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.
    Oh, well. Live and learn.

  4. Well, this makes me feel better about my non-starter starter. I didn’t try the pineapple juice yet, but I understand peter reinhart’s website explains why it’s a better method. I do really want to make those other sourdoughs so I hope to figure it out. I have another recipe for a starter that worked for me once a long time ago, plus I know of someone who might be able to give me some. I decided if someone gives me starter it’s just as “authentic” as me making my own. that’s supposed to be the point!
    do you think the starter was the problem, or just the recipe itself? I.e. did you save the rest of the starter for future BBA challenges?

  5. Wendy — you must let me know how yours turns out if you try this. Heather, you were wise to bail on this bread!! Phyl, thanks for the link. I definitely need all the help I can get on the starter front.
    Sara — I used the starter for one other bread and that didn’t turn out well either. (More on that later…) So perhaps it was the starter. If you have a recipe you can share, I’m all ears.
    Eric, thanks so much for your kind words. I checked out your site and loved your bolognese post! It made me want to make it again…now I just have to find 12 spare hours to do it. Love your pix, too. Cheers…

  6. Oh, that’s too bad! I make a panettone every year, but usually it takes only a day or two to make. Doesn’t matter how long it takes, my real issue with it was the year it COLLAPSED. I should have inserted an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature, but I didn’t. Instead, what looked like an impressive panettone wasn’t on the inside. =(

  7. Making this bread sounds way too traumatizing for me. I would probably spend hours agonizing over whether it not it would turn out. It certainly LOOKS delicious!

  8. This is a great centerpiece! What a fun family tradition.. I’m sure there has got to be a way to sweeten it up a bit too. Can’t wait to try this recipe with my daughter, I’m sure she’ll flip because she just gets so excited about things like this!

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