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Italian Easter tart

"This is a traditional tart eaten in Naples at Easter," says Ingram. "The legend goes that a mermaid called Parthenope in the Gulf of Napoli would sing to celebrate the arrival of spring each year. One year, to say thank you, the Neapolitans offered her gifts of ricotta, flour, eggs, wheat, perfumed orange flowers and spices. She took them to her kingdom under the sea, where the gods made them into a cake. I love to add nibs of chocolate to Parthenope cake because I think it marries nicely with the candied orange and sultanas, but, really, do you need an excuse to add chocolate to anything?" Start this recipe a day ahead to prepare the pastry and soak the sultanas.

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Panettone


If you love Christmas baking, take the best-quality butter, eggs and fruit and introduce this sweet, fragrant Italian bread to your festive tradition.

You'll need

14 gm dried yeast (about 2 sachets) 870 gm plain flour, sieved 4 eggs, at room temperature 200 gm raw caster sugar 340 gm softened butter 2 egg yolks 2 tbsp honey 1 vanilla bean, scraped seeds only 250 gm golden raisins, soaked for 30 minutes in water, drained 75 gm cedro and candied orange, finely chopped Finely grated rind of 1½ oranges and 1½ lemons

Method

  • 01
  • Combine half the yeast and 80ml lukewarm water in a bowl, stir to dissolve, stand until creamy (8-10 minutes). Stir in 70gm flour until smooth, cover with plastic wrap, stand until doubled in size (15-20 minutes).
  • 02
  • Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer, add remaining yeast and 60ml lukewarm water, beat well to combine. Add 2 eggs, 180gm flour and 50gm sugar, beat to combine, then, with motor running, add 115gm butter. Beat until smooth, cover with plastic wrap, stand until doubled in size (1-1½ hours).
  • 03
  • Add yolks, honey, vanilla seeds, remaining eggs, remaining sugar and 1 tsp sea salt, beat to combine, then add remaining butter and beat to combine. Add 600gm flour, beat until smooth (2-3 minutes). Change paddle to a dough hook, knead until a soft dough forms (1-2 minutes), then knead lightly on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, stand until tripled in size (2-2½ hours).
  • 04
  • Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200C. Combine raisins, cedro, candied orange and citrus rinds in a bowl, dust with remaining flour and set aside. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead lightly until smooth, roll out to a 1cm-thick oval and scatter with half the fruit mixture.
  • 05
  • Roll into a cylinder, roll out again to a 30cm-long oval, scatter with remaining fruit mixture and roll into a cylinder again.
  • 06
  • Shape into a ball, place in a buttered and base-lined 20cm-diameter, 10cm-deep loose-bottomed cake tin.
  • 07
  • Cut a shallow cross in dough, cover and stand until doubled in size (2-2½ hours). Bake panettone for 10 minutes, reduce oven to 190C and bake for another 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 170C and bake until dark golden and a skewer withdraws clean (40-50 minutes). Cover panettone with foil if top gets too dark. Cool in tin for 30 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack. Panettone will keep, wrapped in plastic wrap, in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks. It is best served warmed or toasted after 1-2 days.

Dried and glacé fruit are a common theme when it comes to Christmas sweets and treats from European countries. Think of the dense, booze-soaked fruit cakes, puddings and tarts of English origin, which have been so widely adopted here in Australia, despite our seasonal differences. Or perhaps German stollen, a sweet Christmas bread studded with glacé cherries and dried fruit, sometimes with a luscious marzipan centre but always finished with a generous dusting of icing sugar. The Italians have their own version of a festive bread - panettone, a buttery, lightly sweetened, egg-enriched dough with a distinctive cupola-shaped top, traditionally studded with raisins and candied citron. Visit just about any Italian delicatessen or greengrocer at Christmas time and you'll find a wide selection of panettone including more modern versions that have been stuffed with chocolate chips or limoncello.

There are almost as many legends attached to the history of panettone as there are versions of the bread. But a common thread is its place and time of origin - Milan, dating back, in one form or another, to the Roman Empire, when ancient Romans sweetened leavened bread with honey. Even the origins of panettone's name are somewhat mysterious. Some historians claim it derives from the Italian "panetto", meaning small bread loaf. Conversely, panettone literally means large bread. Or it may have come about at the time of its first recorded association with Christmas, which occurred in the writings of an 18th-century illuminist who referred to it as pane di tono, meaning luxury bread. But it wasn't until the early 20th century that panettone became widely adopted by Italians as their Christmas bread. This was due to large-scale production by two rival bakers, Angelo Motta and Gioacchino Alemagna. The two family companies were bought out by Nestlé in the late 1990s, and they have since been taken over by the Italian bakery company Bauli.

So, if there's so much commercially produced panettone out there, why make your own? It's a labour-intensive and time-consuming process (multiple proving is necessary to ensure a light and airy result)and may not yield a perfect-looking panettone (although this will improve each time you attempt the recipe). But the pay-off is a delicate, preservative-free, top-quality panettone that hasn't travelled great distances to get to your kitchen table (so no air miles to feel guilty about) and is far fresher than any shop-bought product could ever be.

As always, using the best available produce will ensure the best possible results. Free-range or organic eggs, great-quality butter and premium dried and glacé fruit are essential. Seek out a deep-sided cake tin to achieve the traditional domed shape. These tins are available from specialist cookware stores. Standard round cake tins are about 6cm deep, whereas the tin we've used is 10cm deep. If you can't find such a tin, you can bake the panettone in a larger diameter shallow cake tin. Although it won't have the same proportions, your panettone will have the same taste and texture.

Enjoy your home-baked panettone warm or at room temperature, with an espresso - or, in true festive spirit, with a glass or two of Moscato d'Asti and topped with honeycream and berries, as we've done here. Salute e buon Natale.


At A Glance

  • Serves 10 people

At A Glance

  • Serves 10 people

Featured in

Dec 2009

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