I've been playing around with saffron a lot lately. I love the way that it lends a warm yellow colour to everything it touches, the way it adapts itself equally well to savoury or sweet dishes, and the way the smallest pinch of real saffron can perfume an entire dish with that undefinable flavour that is unmistakeably saffron.
So when I stumbled onto Bon Appetit's recipe for Saffron Panettone one day, I knew this was a sign from above. For one, I still had some candied Meyer lemon peel in my pantry, and one of the most important elements of a proper panettone is good-quality candied citrus. Also, I'd just bought some beautiful brown-and-gold parchment panettone molds at the neighbourhood kitchen shop (or, as I like to call them, my dealers-slash-enablers).
This recipe makes two medium-sized panettones, which means you'll have one for yourself, and another one to pass along as a gift. It's not quite as light and airy as some panettones I've had, most likely because I opted not to knead the dough quite as long as is traditional (some recipes suggest up to 50 minutes!), but I found that the loaves were still beautifully pillowy on the inside, with a fine crumb and a buttery-yellow colour thanks to the eggs and saffron.
Leftovers, assuming you don't devour the entire loaf in a single sitting, will go stale within a day or two. But don't despair - stale panettone can be used to make a fabulously upscale version of bread pudding, or some of the most decadent French toast you've ever had.
And while we're talking saffron, I must entreat you to use genuine saffron if you're going to bother with this recipe. Yes, it's notoriously expensive, but it's most definitely worth your while to splurge.
That small bundle of red threads packed into a tiny little box is surprisingly potent, which means a little goes a loooong way - you'll rarely use more than a pinch or two in any given recipe. Not to mention that while the imitators might be able to duplicate the colour of saffron, they never come close to duplicating the flavour. So skip your afternoon latte for a day or two, and splurge on a box of proper saffron instead. You'll thank yourself for it.
- 1 cup whole milk
- 8 green cardamom pods, crushed
- ½ tsp crumbled saffron threads
- 4 tsp active dry yeast
- ½ cup sugar, divided
- ½ cup butter, melted
- 4 large eggs
- ¾ tsp salt
- 4½ cups all purpose flour, divided
- 1 cup diced candied orange or lemon peel
- 1 cup chopped apricots
- 4 tbsp milk
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ¼ cup sliced almonds
- In a small saucepan set over medium heat, bring milk, cardamom pods and saffron to a simmer. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes, or until the saffron has thoroughly infused the milk.
- Strain milk mixture into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Let stand for about 10 minutes, or until yeast is dissolved and mixture is foamy. Stir in remaining sugar, along with butter, eggs and salt.
- Add 2 cups flour, and stir until smooth. Gradually stir in another 2 cups of flour along with citrus peel and apricots, working until a soft dough starts to come together.
- Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Knead until dough is soft, smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes), adding up to ½ cup more flour as needed to keep from sticking. Place dough in a large, lightly oiled mixing bowl. Cover with a clean dishcloth, and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise until doubled, about 2 hours.
- Lightly butter two 8" paper panettone molds. Punch down the dough and turn out onto a work surface. Divide dough into two equal-sized pieces, and work each one into a ball. Place a ball of dough, seam side down, into each of the prepared molds. Cover loosely with a clean towel, and place in a warm draft-free spot to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
- Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.
- In a small bowl, stir together milk and 2 tbsp sugar. Brush top of each loaf with milk and sugar mixture, then sprinkle with almonds.
- Bake in preheated oven until loaves are golden brown and tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Set the loaves on a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes before serving.