Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge: Panettone

Bread Baker's Apprentice Panettone

I’m sad to report that I have now had my very first failure in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge.  I’ve made mistakes and had a few problems with some of the earlier breads, but they all managed to pull through and turn out pretty great.

Then I met Panettone.

Panettone is a traditional Italian Christmas bread that originates from Milan and is popular throughout the world.  I’ve always loved it.  My first experience with panettone was when I worked for Lenscrafters in college.  Lenscrafters is owned by an Italian company and our Christmas bonuses came in the form of this sweet, rich, and fruity bread.  Not everyone liked it, so there were always extra boxes of panettone sitting around the Lenscrafters break room in December.  But I loved it.  I would toast big hunks of it (under the broiler because it was too big to fit in my toaster) and eat it dripping with butter.  It makes great french toast, too!  I also ate my share of panettone while living in Sicily.  It’s sold everywhere in Italy – little shops, big grocery stores, from the back of trucks on the side of the road.

But through all those years of eating panettone, I never once attempted making it at home.  I was excited about making this bread.  I ordered special ingredients from King Arthur Flour – the beautifully scented citrus and vanilla extract called Fiori di Sicilia, candied citrus peels, a dried fruit medley, and even the decorative paper molds for baking the traditional round loaves.

This bread uses a mix of  wild and commercial yeast and it is the first bread in the book that requires the use of a sourdough starter.  Instead of creating a new one, I refreshed the sourdough starter that I used in Sicily and have managed to keep alive through all my travels since.  I made a sponge with my sourdough starter, milk, and flour then watched it bubble and spring to life.  I soaked the dried fruits in brandy and citrus extracts and let them perfume my house overnight while the sponge rested in the refrigerator.  The next morning I mixed the silky, butter-rich dough that smelled exactly like the panettone I’ve always known and loved.  I let it sit out at room temperature to let it rise.  And then I waited.

And waited.

I was prepared for the dough to take a long time to rise.  I had read about how the sugar in the dough shocks the yeast and that it wouldn’t rise like a normal bread dough.  I could have bought special yeast that is formulated to work better with sweet doughs, but I forgot to order it.  So yes, I knew it was going to take a while.  I waited.  A few hours passed and the rise in the dough was barely perceptible.  Sometime between 4 and 5 hours, I decided that I would have to move on or I would be up all night baking the bread.  So even though the dough had not come close to increasing by 50% (which is all I had been hoping for), I divided the dough between two large panettone molds.  The dough filled the molds halfway, which is what it was supposed to do.  But it needed to rise again to fill most of the mold if the loaves were to turn out the way I imagined they would.  So I prepared myself for a long night, and the waiting began again.

But the dough never rose.  I gave it a good 6 hours to do its thing in my fairly warm kitchen, and absolutely nothing happened.  Finally, I preheated the oven and baked it.  It smelled wonderful, but it didn’t rise in the oven, either.

Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge Panettone in Wrapper

I ended up with two beautifully-scented bricks of bread.  They were heavy and dense.  The flavor was good, but without the light, airy quality, it was not panettone and it was not enjoyable to eat.

Bread Baker's Apprentice Panettone Unwrapped

I’m not sure what went wrong.  There’s a chance that my yeast is too old.  There’s a chance that I just did something wrong during the course of making the bread.  And after reading through the experiences of others (not many people liked this bread), there’s a chance that this just isn’t a good formula for panettone.  I thought about trying it again, but I’ve decided I don’t want to risk another batch turning out the same way.  If I make panettone again, I’ll be trying the formula in Peter Reinhart’s latest book, Artisan Breads Every Day. The formula is quite a bit different and in the new book he prepares you for extremely long rising times.  If I give it a try, I’ll share the results with you.

Am I disappointed?  Of course.  But so far, 23 out 24 breads in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice have been really good and I’m quite certain that most of the ones I have yet to complete will be great as well.  I’m still very excited about the challenge of finishing the entire book.  The BBA Challenge is taking me a lot longer than I had originally planned and my life has gone through some pretty drastic changes since I first started this journey.  But even with its ups and downs and twists and turns, it’s been a fantastic adventure.  I’m thankful for all of the wonderful people who decided to join me – many of whom passed me up long ago, finished the book themselves, and continue to cheer for me as I plug along.  Thanks, guys!

If you’re following along in the challenge, the actual formula can be found on page 203 of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  The next bread I’ll be baking is Pizza Napoletano.  I’ve made this pizza in the past for a Daring Baker’s Challenge and it was fantastic.  I’m looking forward to giving it another try!

Want to Join The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge?

There are several ways for you to join in the fun!  First of all, you need a copy of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  Read the first section of the book carefully, as this will prepare you for the bread recipes in the second section of the book.  Then just jump in and bake some Anadama Bread, which is the first bread formula in the book.  You may also visit The BBA Challenge Page for more details on how to participate in the group.

If you haven’t already, you might want to bookmark the BBA Challenge Page.  From there you can see which breads are coming up soon, find answers to Frequently Asked Questions, visit and/or add yourself to our World Map, see the BBA Challenge Blogroll, and check out the continually updated slideshow of BBA Bread photos from our ever-expanding group of bakers!

Panettone from other BBA Bakers:

Are you into winning free stuff?  Head over to my review blog where I have three different giveaways going on right now!

  1. Katie

    What a bummer about the Panettone! I’ve been dragging my feet on making it because I haven’t liked the storebought in the red box kind. This is not very motivating, but you’re right 23 out of 24 isn’t bad. I have about 12 more recipes to go, and I really should make this one during the holidays. I’ll let you know if I have any better luck.

    2:35 pm  Dec 2nd, 2010
  2. Emily

    I say when life gives you bad bread, make bread pudding!

    I could see a panettone bread pudding being quite amazing for the holidays.

    2:35 pm  Dec 2nd, 2010
  3. SallyBR

    Since I made that one, I’ve been wanting to try another recipe, and in fact have one in sight (from The Italian Baker), maybe I’ll try it right before Christmas, since it’s that time of the year: panettone time!

    It’s sad when a recipe fails, but… I guess it happens every once in a while…

    (thanks for the link to my blog….)

    2:43 pm  Dec 2nd, 2010
  4. Gretchen

    I am totally impressed that you even tried it! I have a tendency to appreciate great bread, but to skip making it because I’m really impatient so I hate waiting for it to rise. And I can’t even begin to imagine the taste of the Panettone you have eaten. The only Panettone I’ve had has been from Panera, but even then it was amazing! Is there a store bought kind that comes close to the real thing?

    2:45 pm  Dec 2nd, 2010
  5. Allen

    Bummer. But, it still looks pretty dang tasty 😉

    2:56 pm  Dec 2nd, 2010
  6. Nancy (n.o.e.)

    I’ve pretty much decided to skip this bread, although I do like the taste of panettone quite a bit. I’ll believe you that it was a fail, but it still looks pretty darned good on my computer monitor!

    3:22 pm  Dec 2nd, 2010
  7. dalia

    Congrats to you for even trying. I have to admit, I love my panettone right out of the box, so I wouldn’t even attempt to make it.

    4:44 pm  Dec 2nd, 2010
  8. Deirdre Reid

    How disappointing, I know that feeling. As I read, I hoped that you would try to figure out why it didn’t work. Perhaps you’ll have time to give a different recipe a shot before Christmas. I have a recipe from Nick Malgieri in How to Bake and a slightly different version in his Great Italian Desserts. If you’re interested in those, let me know by email and I’ll type them out and send them your way.

    6:58 pm  Dec 2nd, 2010
  9. Daniel

    This was one of those rare ones that also tried my patience. I made it twice, and the second time was a charm because I decided not to take any chances and used fresh yeast, which is readily available in Germany. I think a lot of it does have to do with the special yeast, since others had similar experiences.

    You do get a dud in the bunch that doesn’t always work, but I am glad you tried it. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    4:26 am  Dec 3rd, 2010
  10. kristastes

    I LOVE panettone! My family has it every Christmas – I have never tried making it, either so unfortunately I can’t give you any tips on how to make it rise better!

    6:13 am  Dec 3rd, 2010
  11. saltandserenity

    Oh Nicole, I feel your pain! Just reading your post brings back all those bad Panettone baking experiences! Maybe you’ll have better luck with PR’s other recipe. The big question is what do we do with all that leftover Fiori di Sicilia?
    Glad you’re back baking again!

    7:03 am  Dec 3rd, 2010
  12. Food Blog Digest – Prepping for the Christmas Holidays |

    […] Pinch my Salt – The Panettone Challenge […]

    7:30 am  Dec 3rd, 2010
  13. Keri @ KAF


    I’m sorry to hear your Panettone didn’t turn out as well as you had hoped! Call our Baker’s Hotline at 1-800-827-6836 and we can help you trouble shoot what went awry. Until then, I agree with the other commenter – the Panettone bricks would make some awesome bread pudding, or maybe some baked French Toast?

    Happy baking!

    Keri @ King Arthur Flour

    9:45 am  Dec 3rd, 2010
  14. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday

    Perfect timing for making this bread! Right around the holidays 😀

    I made mine a few weeks back and it turned out amazing!

    I made it for my nonna for her birthday. Even she was impressed.

    1:38 pm  Dec 3rd, 2010
  15. Ayla

    Looks beautiful and profesh to me.

    5:01 pm  Dec 3rd, 2010
  16. Di

    Sorry to hear that this one didn’t turn out for you. I’m actually making it right now (my sponge is on the counter). Hopefully I’ll have good luck with it. Enjoy your pizza!

    9:54 pm  Dec 3rd, 2010
  17. Myriam

    Dear Nicolle, the panettone is traditional in every Christmas in Argentina, as we are mostly descendants of Italians. My grandma used to prepare it. You don´t need any sourdough starter. I had the same problem with another bread while using lard. I´ve contacted a chef in New York and he explained this is a common problem, when the dough has too much humidity, it doesn´t rise.
    You can contact me if you want another recipe.
    Best regards,

    10:50 am  Dec 4th, 2010
  18. Abby

    I don’t think there was another bread in the Challenge that gave me more stress than this one . . . But bread pudding does sound good! =)

    5:26 pm  Dec 4th, 2010
  19. make my day

    what i love is the honesty of an imperfect result! Thanks so much for a real read…after all if we don’t make mistakes how can we learn! cheers kari

    5:51 pm  Dec 5th, 2010
  20. Louise

    that’s the worst, it’s happened to me many times…not with this bread but with yeast in general… fickle stuff

    7:28 pm  Dec 5th, 2010
  21. The Teacher Cooks

    Sorry that the panettone did not work, but it is great that you shared it with us. Tell me how kept your starter alive. Did you freeze it?

    9:05 am  Dec 6th, 2010
  22. Elle

    I know the feeling, hoping and waiting for your bread to rise… and it never does! I’ve tried a sourdough starter a few times now with no success. I’m putting the Bread Baker’s Apprentice on my Christmas list, hopefully it will bring be better luck!

    3:25 pm  Dec 6th, 2010
  23. LimeCake

    I love this at Christmas! Yours doesn’t look dense or heavy at all. Perhaps use it for french toast?

    7:49 pm  Dec 7th, 2010
  24. Kathryn

    That’s a shame, but they still look super delicious! I love thick, dense bread, so I would have been happy with the result, but it always sucks when your food doesn’t turn out quite as expected 🙁

    9:17 am  Dec 9th, 2010
  25. Elle

    I totally get you.
    I’m pretty good at baking breads and sweet pastries – even very complicated cakes that have 10 steps and take 2 days to make, and I absolutely LOVE Panettone! I wait eagerly every year for Christmas to enjoy it.
    A few years back I tried baking it myself – it was a real flop. I was so disappointed!
    haven’t had the courage to try it again since.
    This year I bought myself 2 Panettones in beautifully decorated tin boxes – an upside to the store-bought variety (-;

    8:31 am  Dec 15th, 2010
  26. Justin

    This website is so good for me!. thanks . .

    11:07 am  Dec 15th, 2010
  27. Georgia Pellegrini

    I am so sorry about the panettone! I love it with icing, I know, maybe too much of a good thing? Impossible.

    3:54 pm  Dec 17th, 2010
  28. Ariana from Chicago

    Writing in to say I’ve had the same problems with panettone!! Tried 2 yrs in a row with different recipes, one from Rose Levy Berenbaum. After so much effort and investment in the ingredients my multiple (!) loaves did not rise very well. I baked them after waiting forever and after all the work, they were dry and just ok. This year, I might try a version from the Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day book, it seems easy and should be just a souped up version of brioche. Panettone is a tough one! My sympathies

    9:07 pm  Dec 20th, 2010
  29. Christmas and Bread | BREAD n BEER

    […] read on this blog site that panettone was pretty hard to make so I wanted to try it […]

    5:24 pm  Jan 22nd, 2011
  30. Susie

    Is this as far as you went??
    I went one more than this and quit. I hope to get back to it one day and finish.

    4:16 pm  May 27th, 2011
  31. Mary B

    I have this recipe almost perfected – about 90% there. If you want details, please email and I will help you. I have used Peter Reinhart’s panettone recipe 3 times now and there will be a 4th in a day or so.

    2:04 pm  Dec 22nd, 2014
  32. RP

    I’m a newbie to the bread baking world. I just got Peters book a few months ago. I’ve started through the book. I’ve only done about 5 so far.
    I do want to skip ahead and do the Pizza. I came to your site and noticed you didn’t review it or any others.
    Your work has been amazing to read and encouraging for me. I hope all is well with you. I enjoyed your site and great effort it took to coordinate, bake, photograph and publish. Thanks for all your efforts.
    Life throws us a curve ball every so often.

    7:42 pm  Jan 14th, 2015
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