It’s beginning to look like Christmas… based on the mountains of boxed panettone we’re seeing at markets and grocery stores. The Italian sweet bread is a staple this time of year, a celebration of fruit-studded buttery bliss, a bread so good you can eat a slice with a cup of coffee or turn it into something more decadent like bread pudding or French toast. It practically makes the holidays.
Fresh-baked panettone is a rarity around these parts, which is why it’s so special that Margarita Manzke and her République team of bakers are creating loaves for the holiday season. Once you have fresh panettone, you’ll never go back.
For the uninitiated, this is no fruit cake. More on the brioche side of the baked goods spectrum, the airy, poofy bread is studded with fruits and sometimes nuts. It’s slightly sweet and buttery, a delicious and festive treat with every bite. While origins can be traced back to the Roman Empire, Milan is widely considered the birthplace. It was there that industrious bakers decided to mass-produce and market the breads in the early 20th century, packing them in colorful boxes with ribbon handles for easy gifting. Even Trader Joe’s has its own version.
When you get down to it, classic pannettone isn’t easy to make, which is probably why so many bakers don’t do it. It requires a lengthy process of proofing the dough before baking, which gives the cake its distinctive fluffiness, and ends with hanging the breads upside down to cool, which helps keep that classic domed shape. Manzke starts with a classic brioche-like dough, forms it into boules, which are placed in classic paper molds. After the dough rises again, Manzke brushes a chocolate glaze on top of the bread, and sprinkles almonds and powdered sugar right before the loaves go into the oven. It comes out with a crispy, sugary top, and soft and pillowy inside.
“It’s a very soft and tender dough with lots of butter,” Manze says. “A lot of the ones from Italy, the ones in the boxes, are made months ahead. They’re always dry. It’s different when you make it fresh. And it keeps really well, too.”
Manzke’s panettone is full of additional goodies like orange and lemon peel, gold and dark raisins, and slivered almonds. The bread retails for $15, which makes it totally a gift worth giving.
It’s easy to think she was inspired by her regular trips to Italy, but Manzke learned to make panettone in culinary school. Only this is the first time she has the space to make it in a bakery. “I was never able to make it in restaurants,” she adds. “Now I can and it’s just awesome.”
She’s also making stollen, a traditional German fruit bread, now through Christmas. The recipe is based on her mother-in-law’s recipe. “Walter’s mom make it every year. I’ve tweaked the recipe some, and mine are smaller, but it’s very traditional.”
You can pick up either bread at République at the bakery counter through Tuesday, December 22. Best to order ahead if you want more than one: There’s a limited supply.