Like clockwork, the holiday staples begin appearing on the shelves of Argentine markets around the first week of December: blue and red foil-wrapped pan dulce, packets of cavity-inducing turrón and Mantecol, and bottles of bubbly sidra. When it comes to baked goods, nothing else says Christmas in Argentina like pan dulce, a sweet yeast bread known to most Americans as panettone. Popularized by Italian immigrants, pan dulce has become an indispensable part of holiday celebrations in Argentina.
To be sincere, I could never get that worked up about pan dulce. The ubiquitous, commercially made version generally suffers from one or more of the following defects: dry, tasteless dough; an excess of unappetizing candied fruits (cherries should never be green in my opinion); and a dearth of the ingredients that I really enjoy, such as walnuts and almonds. The pan dulce available at local bakeries generally raises the bar, but if you’re after customizability, homemade pan dulce simply can’t be beat.
This recipe yields a rich, flavorful dough chockful of nuts, along with homemade candied orange peel and chunks of chocolate. The dough, perfumed with orange blossom water, will make your kitchen smell divine as the bread bakes. Though the recipe is a bit time consuming, I assure you that you’ll never go back to store-bought pan dulce after sampling the homemade version. Feel free to tailor the recipe to your taste. If you love those green cherries, go ahead and add them.
Pan Dulce (Panettone)
1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. instant yeast
½ cup warm whole milk
1 Tbsp. sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 to 4½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. malt extract [substitute molasses or honey if unavailable]
¼ tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
the zest of 1 lemon or orange
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. orange flower water
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
½ cup chopped candied orange peel [see recipe here]
½ cup chocolate chunks
1 beaten egg
powdered sugar for dusting
2 medium (5″ x 3¾”) paper panettone molds
Combine the ingredients for the sponge in the bowl of a stand mixer. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave the mixture to rise and bubble until it has doubled in volume, roughly 30 to 45 minutes.
Add the flour, sugar, eggs, malt extract and salt, and mix on medium speed with a dough hook for 5 minutes. Add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Switch to a paddle attachment, and mix the dough on medium-high for 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the zest, vanilla extract, almond extract, orange flower water, nuts, chocolate and candied peel. Mix until combined.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, covered with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
Remove dough from refrigerator and bring up to temperature (about 1 hour). Divide dough in half; form balls and place them in paper panettone molds on a baking sheet. The dough should fill half the mold. Cover with a kitchen towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume.
Note: The richness of the pan dulce dough (high sugar and fat content) as well as the large quantity of nuts, chocolate, etc. results in long proofing times. Be prepared for the dough to take several hours to proof.
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Brush the dough with beaten egg. Bake the two loaves together for about 45 minutes. If the top starts to brown too much, cover loosely with aluminum foil. The pan dulce is done when it is brown on the outside and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Allow pan dulce to completely cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.