Puccini and the Panettone

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Today (December 22) is Puccini's birthday. Born in 1858, the Italian composer is best known for his operas, including La bohème, Tosca, Madame Butterfly and Turandot.

Puccini was known for the love-hate relationship he had with the conductor Toscanini and therein lies an interesting Christmas story.

Each year Puccini sent his friends a Panettone at Christmas. One year, having fallen out with Toscanini he forgot to cancel the conductor's gift.

Realizing the error, Puccini sent Toscanini a telegram that read: PANETTONE SENT BY MISTAKE, PUCCINI.

Toscanini responded with a telegram of his own: PANETTONE EATEN BY MISTAKE, TOSCANINI.

If you fancy making your own Panettone this Christmas (and there's still time - just) why not try this recipe?

(a.k.a. Italian Christmas Cake)

1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon dried yeast
4 tablespoons milk (or buttermilk)
100g (4oz) butter
50g (2oz) caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
3 (free range if possible) eggs, beaten
finely grated rind of ½ a lemon
finely grated rind of ½ an orange
400g (14oz) plain (all purpose) flour or white bread flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
100g (4oz) raisins or sultanas
75g (3oz) chopped mixed peel

1) Preheat the oven to 400F, 200C, Gas Mark 6. Butter a 20cm (8 in) cake tin and line with lightly buttered greaseproof paper.

2) Pour the milk (or buttermilk) into a bowl, then sprinkle on the sugar and yeast. Leave for around 10 minutes – it should start to go frothy.

3) Combine the butter and caster sugar in a bowl and beat them together until they are very fluffy. Then beat in the eggs gradually, followed by the lemon and orange rind (and the vanilla extract if you’re using it).

4) Place the flour and salt in a large bowl. Now gently fold in the milky/yeast fluid, followed by the creamed butter/sugar mixture. Mix them all together until you have a soft dough.

5) Put the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until it’s smooth.

6) Place the dough into an oiled plastic bag (or cover with a tea-towel and leave in a warm place). Leave it for about an hour until it has doubled in size.

7) Sprinkle the raisins/sultanas and mixed peel over the dough. Knead until they are completely mixed in. Place the mixture in the cake tin and leave it in a warm place, until it has doubled in size again. It will take about 45 minutes.

8) When it has risen, bake it in the oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350F, 180C, Gas Mark 4 and bake it for another 30 minutes. When it’s done it should be golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool the Panettone, and dust it with icing sugar.


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