Where To Order The Best Panettone This Holiday Season

You know the most wonderful time of the year is near when certain items appear in bulk in the supermarket: legs of ham, gingerbread men, whole turkeys, chocolate logs - and panettone.

The last has many detractors, who find it a dry, tasteless waste of calories best consigned to the scrapheap of tradition. That's a shame, as many people only try the mass-produced varieties and miss out on the delights of artisanal panettone. At its best, panettone should be a billowing, toffee-hued, chef's-hat-shaped mass of sweet bread, with creamy, pillow-like insides studded with raisins and citrus peel.

The precise origin of panettone is unclear, though it has been traced back to 15th-century Milan, long before Italy became a nation. Copious use of luxury ingredients such as butter, eggs and candied fruit limited its consumption to festive occasions, and it only became globally popular in the 20th century with the advent of industrial production.

Making panettone the traditional way, however, is considered by some as the Mount Everest of baking.

Panettone at CIAK in Central, Hong Kong. Photo: K.Y. Cheng © Provided by South China Morning Post Panettone at CIAK in Central, Hong Kong. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

"Anything and everything can go wrong at any stage of the process," says Li Kwok-cheung (also known as KC), founder of Hong Kong bakery Levain. He reels off a list of pitfalls that includes split or cracked dough, dry and crumbly texture, and collapsing and even exploding bread.

Li, a self-taught baker who has four outlets in Hong Kong and has been making panettone for nine years, was drawn to such a challenge after learning how to make sourdough bread. "Panettone is the hardest, most interesting and challenging bread to make, and tests every baking fundamental," he says.

Essential to a good panettone is mature sourdough starter, which gives bread its unique character, and distinguishes one baker from another. "If you want something special, you will cultivate your own yeast," says Li, who has been nurturing his starter for 15 years. "It's like cheese or winemaking."

Unlike normal bread, however, which is mostly water and flour, panettone requires the addition of large amounts of sugar, butter and eggs, "which technically pushes the limits of fermentation", Li says. The high fat and sugar content makes the dough delicate yet volatile and "the baking sequence must be followed exactly", or disaster looms.

Once the starter is ready, it takes Li and his team at least two days to make the bread, which includes mixing the dough, shaping it into 1kg (2.2 pounds) and 400g loaves, proofing, baking, then resting the final product upside down while it cools to preserve the shape.

Levain baker and owner Li Kwok-cheung with his panettone. Photo: Jonathan Wong © Provided by South China Morning Post Levain baker and owner Li Kwok-cheung with his panettone. Photo: Jonathan Wong

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Li's panettone is beautiful: airy, golden-brown, lightly crusted and perfectly domed. According to Li, a good panettone should be "fruity, creamy, and full of butter and vanilla flavour". Although taste comes first, the texture should be moist, fluffy and not too stringy.

"Panettone requires someone dedicated to baking, who will treat it like a baby when they make it," he says, adding that while technique is important, it's having the right mindset to do it properly that counts, one that can't be written down in a recipe.

That's a sentiment echoed by Ringo Chan, who believes that "you use your heart to make panettone". The executive pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong learned how to make the loaves from an Italian chef, and considers them to be living things that must be closely watched, because of the use of wild sourdough yeast.

Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong executive pastry chef Ringo Chan with his panettone. Photo: Jonathan Wong © Provided by South China Morning Post Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong executive pastry chef Ringo Chan with his panettone. Photo: Jonathan Wong

He likens panettone to brioche, only much harder to make. "The method is very detailed and you must follow every step," says Chan, adding that the liquid nature of the dough makes it difficult to work with. You "need space, time and manpower, and it's very easy to fail", especially when making larger quantities.

In his panettone Chan uses French AOP butter, Japanese eggs, Canadian Manitoba flour mixed with Italian double-zero flour, and candied fruits. Depending on variables such as the temperature and humidity, it takes him up to 38 hours to make a batch, which consists of a maximum of just 14 one-kilogram pieces.

"Timing is all-important, yet difficult to assess," he says. "You cannot open the oven while baking, or prick it to check if it is cooked, or it will collapse." He relies on his eyes and experience, and "I still get excited and nervous every time I make it."

Panettone from the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. Photo: Jonathan Wong © Provided by South China Morning Post Panettone from the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Apart from enjoying the challenge of making panettone, Chan loves them because the bread signals Christmas. He recalls having his first one nearly 30 years ago, when he was an apprentice under an Italian pastry chef. Back then, he had no idea what it was, but "even today, I still remember the taste and smell of it, the candied fruit, spice and honey, like Christmas".

While most store-bought panettone use stabilisers to extend their shelf life, Chan recommends eating panettone within a week of production, while it's still moist, though it will keep for at least a fortnight. He likes to eat his warm, with a dollop of mascarpone and a cup of cinnamon tea.

Chan's predecessor at the Four Seasons, Gregoire Michaud, now owner of the Bakehouse chain of bakeries in Hong Kong, likes to store his panettone in a plastic bag at room temperature for a few days before consuming it. "I eat it as is, or slightly warmed up to render all that butter, which makes it tastier," he says, and he enjoys it with a latte or hot chocolate.

Panettone ingredients from Levain. Photo: Jonathan Wong © Provided by South China Morning Post Panettone ingredients from Levain. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Michaud, who hails from the Swiss canton of Valais, near the Italian border, says that panettone was always on the table during the holiday season. He then learned to make them from a giant of Italian pastry, Iginio Massari, when he was a student at Switzerland's prestigious Richemont Baking Institute.

He agrees that panettone "is truly the pinnacle of sourdough baking, and the essence of baking as an art, as much as it is a science", adding that it is "a delicate balancing act ... a complex and fascinating world" of technical know-how and intuition.

Bakehouse's panettone is made using a 16-year-old sourdough nicknamed "Roger", because it was the first name that came to mind. Before they make the dough, the chefs soak candied orange and lemon peels with raisins and brandy at least a month before baking.

Executive chef Valentino Ugolini with panettone at CIAK. Photo: K.Y. Cheng © Provided by South China Morning Post Executive chef Valentino Ugolini with panettone at CIAK. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

"The crumb is everything," Michaud explains. "It's rich and each thread is slightly gelatinous and golden yellow, yet the texture is well aerated and balanced, with a good amount of fruit." The flavour should be sweet with an intense aroma of the featured fruit and "the magic flavours of the fermentation", he adds, and importantly it should not taste acidic.

Those in Hong Kong who wish to enjoy a slice while dining out can do so at restaurants around town, including a deconstructed version at Radical Chic, an Italian restaurant in the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon. At Whey, in Central on Hong Kong Island, Singaporean chef Barry Quek pushes the envelope further by using Asian ingredients such as semi-dried jackfruit and candied ginger, topped with a buah keluak (black nut) praline.

Traditionalists, however, should head to CIAK, the more casual sibling of three-Michelin-starred 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo. The Central branch is serving panettone with zabaglione foam and hot chocolate, or with vanilla ice cream at its Taikoo Shing outlet.

Panettone at CIAK. Photo: K.Y. Cheng © Provided by South China Morning Post Panettone at CIAK. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Overseeing both is executive chef Valentino Ugolini, who counts renowned Italian chef Mauro Uliassi among his mentors. It was Uliassi who made the first great panettone Ugolini recalls having, one that has inspired him since.

It takes 48 hours to make the CIAK panettone, following a time-honoured recipe. Ugolini finds the challenge is worth the effort, "because it has been associated with Christmas for centuries. Its sweetness, scent and softness suggest moments of conviviality and family."

And for those who insist on an Italian-made panettone, visit Certa, an online store for all things delicious from Italy. Its founder, Keti Mazzi, sources from the best artisans, and her top pick this year is by Niko Romito, whose restaurant, Reale, in the town of Castel di Sangro, holds three Michelin stars. Mazzi can also procure special panettone flour for determined home cooks - though perhaps this is one festive tradition that's best left to the professionals.

Levain, Block B, Unit H105 & H107, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, tel: 2559 0889, plus branches in Quarry Bay, Discovery Bay and Wan Chai

Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, tel: 3196 8888

Bakehouse, 14 Tai Wong Street East, Wan Chai, hello@bakehouse.hk, plus branches in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui

CIAK, 3/F Landmark Atrium, 15 Queen's Road Central, Central, tel: 2522 8869

Shop 265, 2/F Cityplaza, 18 Taikoo Shing Road, Tai Koo, tel: 2116 5128

Certa, online only

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-sg/foodanddrink/foodnews/the-best-panettone-bakers-reveal-the-secrets-to-making-the-italian-christmas-loaf-plus-six-of-the-best-places-to-buy-–-or-try-–-panettone-in-hong-kong/ar-AARRGZl

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Where To Order The Best Panettone This Holiday Season

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Where To Order The Best Panettone This Holiday Season

Where To Order The Best Panettone This Holiday Season

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Where To Order The Best Panettone This Holiday Season

Where To Order The Best Panettone This Holiday Season

Source:MSN

Where To Order The Best Panettone This Holiday Season