How we created Gluten Free Panettonne
Our panettone at Wildcraft is the stuff of dreams. Look at that internal structure!
Look at the SIZE! (supermarket panettone for scale)
Kept somewhere nice and cool in a paper bag, it keeps for a good couple of weeks and still makes the best French Toast you've ever had
Photo shared on Instagram by the.gfg on November 29, 2020 tagging @wildcraftbakery (thank you 😘)
But what would you say if I told you that every single year we make it, we have to start with this:
Would you believe me if I told you that is the exact same recipe we used last year? Every time we receive a new batch of rice flour, we need to reformulate ALL of our recipes because the flour absorbs a different amount of water or has a more dense crumb or less protein or..... And every one of those little changes over 9 or 10 deliveries of flour over the year add up! So back to the beginning we went.
It reached the point where my husband was threatening to throw them at me if I brought any more panettone experiments home and the kitchen was piled high with them. However my kids absolutely LOVED having toasted panettone for breakfast every day! It goes so crisp on the outside and so so fluffy and soft in the middle and then when it's covered in honey or Nutella it's their idea of heaven.
We had so much to figure out! Was the proportion of fruit right? How much panettonne oil should we add to get the right flavour without making the loaf smell like perfume? How much butter was too much butter to add to the dough? And of course it had to be a sourdough panettone, because otherwise it wouldn't be Wildcrafty would it?
Once the flavour and consistency of the dough seemed right, the next thing to start tweaking was the bake. Our ovens aren't like regular home ovens. They're decked with stone plates an inch thick which are heated by about 30 ceramic bars below the stone that are nearly 2m long each. Then more ceramic bars heat the oven air from above. So the heat is infinitely adjustable. I knew the temperature needed to be 200C. But where did I want that heat to come from? If you give bakes too much top heat they look brown and baked on top but may be pale and under baked below (think grill). Too much bottom heat and they will burn underneath and look pale and unappetising on top (think cooking things on a frying pan on the stove). And then comes the steam!
Steam is SO important for baking yeasted things. It lubricates the skin of your dough when it hits the heat of the oven and allows it to expand smoothly. Putting bread in a really hot oven with no steam is like putting it in a straight jacket because the crust hardens and constricts the expansion and causes really weird things to happen to your dough as it bakes. But it's not just about adding steam. How much steam should we add? 5 seconds? 10 seconds? 30 seconds? And then you have to remember that if you put too much steam in, the dough won't be able to dry out properly and finish baking. So that steam has to be vented. But when? 5 minutes into the bake? 30 minutes into the bake?
And once we had finally figured out the bake, we hit the last insurmountable issue with panettone. All panettone (whether gluten free or not) is so soft and light that the weight of it actually crushes the loaf as it cools. It's literally not strong enough to be left as it is to cool. And the larger the panettone, the worse this problem becomes and they come out of the oven big and glorious and turn into pancakes once they've cooled. Ever wonder why you never see large gluten free panettone in the supermarket? That's why!
So then comes the final step: Suspension. Panettone need to be hung upside down until they are completely cool before they can be turned back the right way round. That's why they're baked in those gorgeous paper cases! The dough sticks to the paper and when you then push a skewer through and flip it over, stops the skewer from being pulled through the fragile dough. Have you ever tried pushing a skewer through a super soft squishy loaf that's just come out of the oven while the clock is ticking? It's like an endurance sport! The longer you take to skewer, invert and hang each panettone, the more the ones still in the oven sink down. It's a race against gravity from the minute that door is opened until the minute they are all hanging upside down on the rack. And being Wildcraft (we do most things on a shoe string here!) we couldn't justify spending £25 each on proper long panettone wires that would fit on our bakery trolleys. So we got metal barbeque skewers and modified our smallest trolley using cardboard and duct tape so the panettone wouldn't just fall through the gap between the runners. Necessity is the mother of invention!
So when you tuck into your next loaf of WiIdcraft's Panettone, think of everything that's gone into them to get them to your table! And the most unbelievable part of this story isn't all the R&D that went into it, or how amazing it tastes, or how massive it is, or how lovingly it was made for you. The most unbelievable part is the fact that our panettone is, gram per gram, cheaper than the mass-produced tiny little Gluten Free Panettone you can buy in the supermarket.