Tachybaptus, Going Postal

This is the classic Italian Christmas cake, a much lighter thing than the British equivalent. It’s in the shops now, a wonderful confection at a stiff price. Be a cheapskate and make your own, which is even better.

To get the necessary lightness, you have to use the two-stage ‘yeast sponge’ method, but this is easy enough.

Stage 1
175g/6oz plain white flour
30g/1oz fresh yeast, or 15g/½oz dried yeast
150ml/¼pt warm milk

Cream the yeast in a little of the milk. Put the flour in a bowl. Make a well and pour in the yeast and the rest of the milk. Mix, cover the bowl with a damp cloth, and leave to rise in a warm place for 1½ hours.

Stage 2
175g/6oz plain white flour
60g/2oz melted butter
3 medium egg yolks
Pinch of salt
60g/2oz granulated sugar
90g/3oz stoned raisins
60g/2oz candied peel
Zest of a lemon
1 extra egg, beaten, for brushing
You will also need a 25cm/10in wide, quite deep round cake tin, and baking paper.

Put the flour in a bowl and mix in the salt and sugar. Beat in the egg yolks, and rub in the butter with your fingers, until well mixed. Add the yeast sponge mixture from stage 1. Knead thoroughly. The dough should be quite stiff – if not, add a little extra flour. Add the raisins, peel and lemon zest and knead until these are evenly distributed. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave to rise for at least 2 hours, or overnight. The mixture should double in size.

Remove the top shelf of the oven and preheat to 230°C/450°F/gas 8.

The dough is sticky and will stick to everything, including a greased or non-stick cake tin, so you need to line the tin completely with baking paper. The dough will also rise an enormous amount when it goes into the oven, so line the sides of the tin with a collar of baking paper sticking up at least 25cm/10in, high enough to contain it if it triples in size – it’s better to overdo the height than to underestimate it, which is what happened the first time I made panettone and it overflowed all over the oven.

Put the dough in the cake tin and brush the top with beaten egg to make a shiny glaze. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 190°C/375°F/gas 5 and give it another 15 minutes. Let the panettone cool completely before lifting it out of the tin.

Copyright © Tachybaptus 2018

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