Traditional Panettone Recipe (Italian Christmas Cake)

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Traditional Panettone Recipe (Italian Christmas Cake) consists of a tender lemon and orange-scented sweet dough studded with candied fruit and raisins. You will want to devour this buttery bread for every special occasion! This detailed post with step-by-step photos makes this panettone recipe achievable.

This traditional panettone recipe comes straight from Italy! This classic recipe is adapted from my great nonna Pierina’s. It resembles our Italian Brioche Bread Recipe (Soft and Easy) Italian Sweet Braided Easter Bread, and my pear cake recipe.

What is Panettone?

Panettone is a sweet, soft, and buttery bread similar to brioche. The bread is loaded with lemon and orange zest, candied orange peel, raisins, and currents and baked in a paper mold to give it a tall and unique shape.

This panettone cake recipe is a sweet bread baked in a round pan or mold, giving it a lighter-than-air fluffy texture. You can vary the filling if you don’t like candied fruit or raisins. You can call it a “fruit cake,” but I don’t like those, ha!

We call it Italian Christmas bread since it is traditionally baked during the holiday season and shared with friends and family. 

Serve with Authentic Thick Italian Hot Chocolate or The Best Homemade Chocolate Syrup Recipe.

traditional panettone recipe in a paper mold with a ribbon tied around it.
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History Of Panettone (Italian Christmas Cake)

Panettone is the most iconic Italian Christmas cake (or bread). It is instantly recognizable for its beautifully tall dome shape. The distinctive look of traditional panettone is a symbol of the Christmas season for all Italians.

One popular legend states that its origin goes back to the late 1400s. During a luxurious Christmas banquet given by the Duke of Milan, the desert they were serving got burnt.

A kitchen boy (young cook), called Toni, came up with a rich brioche bread filled with raisins and candied fruit. The Duke loved it, and so the tradition of ‘Pane di Toni’ was born and later changed to “panettone” and become a bread of luxury.

In the Italian dictionary, the Italian word panettone derives from panetto, a small loaf cake. The augmentative suffix -one changes the meaning to “large cake.”

Whatever the origin or history of this authentic recipe, I am grateful we can enjoy it today. The Traditional Panettone Recipe (Italian Christmas Cake)is one of my favorite Christmas desserts.

traditional panettone top down of final cooked cake. Golden Christmas star in background.

Every Italian bakery is packed with this sweet bread recipe during the holiday season. While traditionally served for Christmas, this sweet bread carry’s over into the New Year.

Since my mamma’s birthday is at the end of December when she was growing up in Italy, this panettone recipe was her birthday cake! How would you like to have sweet Christmas bread as your birthday cake? As a child, she wasn’t always a fan, but she adores the tradition we still keep today.

Simple Ingredients

Homemade panettone is 100% worth the effort. The ingredients are simple, and you can easily find all candied and dried fruit this time of year.

ingredient shot for recipe

FOR THE DOUGH STARTER

Biga (this is a type of pre-fermentation used in Italian baking). If you have a sourdough starter on hand, you can replace it with that.

  • All-purpose flour
  • Instant yeast
  • Cool water

FOR THE DOUGH

  • All of the dough starter (above)
  • Grated zest of lemon
  • Grated zest of orange
  • Honey
  • Butter
  • Granulated sugar
  • Eggs
  • Vanilla extract
  • Bread flour
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Instant yeast

MIX-INS (see notes for variations)

TOPPING

  • 1 egg, beaten for egg wash
  • Pearl sugar (optional)
  • A small pat of butter

See the recipe card for quantities.

traditional panettone recipe in a paper mold

History of Traditional Panettone- Italian Christmas Cake

One popular legend states that its origin goes back to the late 1400s. During a luxurious Christmas banquet given by the Duke of Milan, the desert they were serving got burnt.

A kitchen boy (young cook), called Toni, came up with a rich brioche bread filled with raisins and candied fruit. The Duke loved it, and so the tradition of ‘Pane di Toni’ was born and later changed to “panettone” and become a bread of luxury.

In the Italian dictionary, the Italian word panettone derives from panetto, a small loaf cake. The augmentative suffix -one changes the meaning to “large cake.”

Whatever the origin or history of this authentic recipe, I am grateful we can enjoy it today. The Traditional Panettone Recipe (Italian Christmas Cake)is one of my favorite Christmas desserts. You will also love this Pandoro Christmas Tree Cake!

How To Make Panettone

This is the PERFECT way to make Traditional Italian panettone. For this recipe, it is important to use a kitchen scale and measure your ingredients. All you need is a bit of patience for the dough to rise at different stages. You start the dough starter (biga or lievito madre) the night before, and the rest is all done in ONE DAY!

The Night Before Baking

dough starter after overnight rise.

Dough Starter: (photo of dough starter AFTER overnight rise) Combine the starter ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl, and mix with a fork until a shaggy mixture. Cover, and allow it to rest in a warm place for 8-12 hours. This is called your biga- a type of pre-fermentation.

NOTE: You can also use a sourdough starter if you have some and skip this step (use 190 g of the starter if you have it already).

soaking the mix-ins

Prepare Mix-Ins: In a small bowl, combine the honey, vanilla extract, orange peel, and lemon + orange zest. Mix to combine. Cover and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine raisins with water. Cover and set aside. This step makes sure the raisins stay moist during baking. Let them rest overnight. 

Baking Day

Process for making panettone: dough starter after mixing with first flour addition.

Dough Part 1 and 1st rise: in a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine the dough starter (biga), half of the flour, and all of the water and yeast. Mix until combined, and knead with the dough hook (or by hand) for about 5 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour in a warm place. The dough should triple in size. 

Process for making panettone: dough starter after first rise

Dough Part 2 (photo of dough after rise): After the dough rises for 1 hr, add the rest of the flour and mix to combine.

Process for making panettone: crumbly dough.

After adding the remaining flour, the dough will look shaggy and crumbly. Let rest for 10 minutes. 

Process for making panettone: adding egg and honey zest mixture.

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl until fluffy and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the honey, candied orange, and zest mixture to the egg mixture.

sticky dough stage.

Slowly add the egg, sugar, honey, and zest mixture to the dough.

Beat until sticky dough forms; mix with a dough hook (or by hand) for about 5 minutes. The dough will be sticky! If the dough is too wet and not coming together, add a bit of flour. 

Process for making panettone: adding butter a it at a time.

Add the butter to the dough, small bits at a time, mixing after each addition.

Process for making panettone: adding raisins to dough.

After the butter is incorporated, add the raisins (remove excess water, if any). Gently mix until the raisins are incorporated into the dough. Move the dough to a clean and greased bowl. 

Process for making panettone: after second rise.

Dough Rise 2. Cover the dough, and let it rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until it’s puffy or proofed and doubled in size. Gently deflate the dough.

Process for making panettone: folding the dough.

Fold Dough (see video below for more). Move to a greased baking sheet or countertop (do not add extra flour use greased hands to work with dough). Start clockwise- by taking the top corner of the dough (12 o’clock position), pinch a corner of the dough and lift it and let the dough stretch by lifting your hands. Fold the stretched dough back on itself (6 pm location). Turn the dough clockwise (your 12 o’clock position is now the 3 pm location). Repeat the same process of stretching and folding the dough onto itself three times total. This is a fast process that takes about 1 minute from start to finish.
 Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes and repeat the folding process 2 more times with these exact directions of stretching and folding.

Process:adding dough to paper mold to rise again.

Shape Dough. Bring the corners toward the center to form a ball, and pinch the loose ends together. Cup your hands around the dough to round the ball. Place it in a well-buttered or sprayed panettone pan, mold paper, or other straight-sided, tall 1 1/2- to 2-quart pan.

panettone rise in the paper mold.

Dough Rise 3. Let the dough rise in a warm place until it reaches over the rim of the mold, about 1 1/2- 2 hours (time varies depending on humidity and temperature). You want the dough just at the rim or slightly above the mold.

panettone rise in the paper mold.

When the rise is complete, brush the top with egg wash. Make cross cuts on the panettone with a sharp knife, and put a small pat of butter in the center of the cake. Sprinkle with the desired amount of pearl sugar (optional).
Bake. Bake the cake in a preheated 375°F oven for 10 minutes; then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for about 40 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil if the top of the panettone appears to be browning too fast.

fished and baked Italian panettone

When finished baking, the Panettone bread or cake should be a deep brown color. It will sound hollow when tapped and reads 190°F at the center using a digital thermometer. It’s easy to under bake panettone since the top can brown quickly. Remove the panettone from the oven and cool completely.

Hanging the panettone upside down to cool

Rest. To cool the panettone- pierce each side with a bamboo skewer (or these panettone hangers), flip it over, and hang it between two tall jars. Hanging it upside down for a few hours prevents the panettone from caving.

You do not have to cool it upside down. You can cool it on a cooling rack. 

traditional panettone recipe in a paper mold

How to Fold the Panettone Dough

Here is a quick video on how to fold the panettone dough. In Italian, this process is called “metedo della pirlatura. This refers to working a dough according to the Pirlatura method or folding and shaping the dough.

Top Tips for Panettone Recipe

  • Use room temperature ingredients. Room temperature ingredients for baking give optimal results.
  • Make sure you are working with yeast that is NOT expired, or you will do a lot of work for nothing ;).
  • Follow the recipe exactly and be patient with the dough rising at the different stages. Find the warmest place in your home, or use a proofing oven.
  • Use a kitchen scale and measure your ingredients.
  • Hydrate the raisins in a bit of water, or they will be dry.
  • Baker’s Secret: When the bread is cooling, poke it with two long metal or wooden skewers about 3-4 cm from the base. Then, let it rest upside down to cool completely. This will prevent the bread from collapsing while cooling.

Panettone Recipe FAQ

Is panettone bread or a cake?

It is a bit of both! The Panettone cake recipe is a sweet bread that is baked in a round mold, which gives it a lighter-than-air fluffy texture. It is a sweet bread studded with candied fruit, raisins, and sometimes chocolate chips.

What’s the difference between panettone and pandoro?

Traditional panettone is rich in raisins and candied fruit, with its classic tall dome shape. In contrast, pandoro is a simple and rich cake made with butter and eggs, with its distinctive star shape. Both are traditional Italian holiday cakes and taste delicious in their way.

How do I make panettone tall and fluffy?

Here is a baker’s secret to tall and fluffy panettone: When the bread is cooling, poke it with two long metal or wooden skewers about 3-4 cm from the base. Then, let it rest upside down to cool completely. This will prevent the bread from collapsing while cooling.

Can you freeze panettone?

Yes, this panettone cake can be frozen whole or in slices. When stored in the freezer, homemade cakes are good for up to 1 month.
For best results, slice the cake first and wrap each slice individually. Pull out individual slices and reheat in a toaster oven.

How do you know when panettone bread is done baking?

When finished baking, the Panettone bread or cake should be a deep brown color. It will sound hollow when tapped and read 190°F at the center using a digital thermometer. It’s easy to underbake panettone since the top can brown quickly that is why I cook it at different temperatures and tent it will aluminum foil when baking.

How to cool panettone upside down

To cool the panettone upside down,- pierce each side with a bamboo skewer, flip it over, and hang it between two jars. Hanging it upside down for a few hours prevents the panettone from caving.

Variations to Traditional Panettone

A traditional panettone recipe is filled with candied oranges, raisins, currants, and orange zest. There are other classic panettone variations to try besides the classic dried fruit variety.

  • Chocolate Chip – add chocolate chips (I love dark chocolate chips)
  • Pistachio Cranberry Panettone – dried cranberries, pistachios, orange zest
  • Black Forest Panettone – dried cherries, candied oranges, chocolate chip
  • Rum-Soaked Raisins – use rum soaked raisins instead of soaking them in water
close up of panettone cut in half

Equipment for Making Panettone

  • Panettone cake pan or or 8″ deep cake pan
  • Panettone molds small (makes 2) Panettone Paper Pan Mold – Small – 500gr – 5-1/4″ x 3-3/4″ . Panettone Mold (makes 1) Large 1 Kg – 6-5/8″ x 4-5/16″
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Hand mixer or Stand mixer
  • Optional: panettone holder for cooling (hanging the panettone upside down)

How to Serve Panettone

Slice panettone into thick or thin wedges; that’s the traditional Italian way. If you baked it in a paper mold, slice right through it.

Panettone is more bread than cake. It’s slightly sweet. You eat it plain or serve a slice of panettone with a slather of butter to make it more decadent.

Whatever way you serve it, you are sure to love this tasty panettone recipe.

slice of panettone on a plate with Christmas decorations in the background

How to Store Italian Christmas Cake

To keep panettone fresh for up to one week at room temperature, wrap it in plastic wrap and then foil and place it in a resealable bag or airtight container.

What to do with Leftover Panettone

Use leftover panettone to make overnight french toast bake or simple french toast on a pan. I doubt you will have any leftovers after a couple of days.

slice of panettone on a plate with Christmas decorations in the background

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Panettone Recipe

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5 from 25 reviews

Traditional Panettone Recipe (Italian Christmas Cake) consists of a sweet and tender orange-scented sweet dough studded with candied fruits and raisins. You will want to devour this buttery bread for every special occasion!

  • Total Time: 2 hours + rise times
  • Yield: 12 servings 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale

*Important: use a kitchen scale and measure your ingredients in grams. It is more precise. Panettone molds small (makes 2) Panettone Paper Pan Mold – Small – 500gr – 5-1/4″ x 3-3/4″. Panettone Mold large  (makes 1) Large 1 Kg – 6-5/8″ x 4-5/16″. I used the large. 

The night before baking:

DOUGH STARTER 

  • 3/4 cup (90 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more if needed to feed the starter
  • 1/16 teaspoon (just a pinch) of instant yeast
  • 1/3 cup (80 g) of cool water

MIX-INS

  • 1/2 tablespoon grated zest of (about 1 lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon grated zest of (about 1 orange)
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Baking day

FOR THE DOUGH 

  • All of the dough starter (above)
  • 3 cups (384 g) all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 cup (135 g) of lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1/3 cup (67 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 5 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons (113 g) butter, softened

MIX-IN (see notes for variations)

  • 1/2 cup (85 g) raisins + 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup (85 g) candied orange peel, finely chopped

TOPPING

  • 1 egg, beaten (egg wash)
  • 1 pat of butter for topping
  • Pearl sugar

Instructions

The night before baking

  1. Dough Starter: Combine the starter ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix with a fork until a shaggy mixture. Cover, and allow it to rest in a warm place for 8-12 hours. This is called your biga- a type of pre-fermentation. You can also use a sourdough starter if you have some and skip this step (use 190 g of the starter if you have it already).
  2. Prepare Mix-Ins: In a small bowl, combine the honey, vanilla extract, orange peel, and lemon + orange zest. Mix to combine. Cover and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine raisins with water. Cover and set aside. This step makes sure the raisins stay moist during baking. Let them rest overnight. 

Baking day

  1. Dough Part 1 and 1st rise: in a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine the dough starter (biga), half of the flour, and all of the water and yeast. Mix until combined, and knead with the dough hook (or by hand) for about 5 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour in a warm place. The dough should triple in size. 
  2. Dough Part 2: After the dough rises for 1 hr, add the rest of the flour and mix to combine. The dough will look shaggy and crumbly. Let rest for 10 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl until fluffy and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the honey, candied orange, and zest mixture to the beaten eggs and stir until combined.
  4. Slowly add the egg and orange mixture to the dough. Mix with a dough hook until the dough is sticky and uniform; mix with a dough hook (or by hand) for about 5 minutes. The dough will be sticky, and it will take several minutes to come together, about 10 minutes of kneading! 
  5. Add the butter to the dough, small bits at a time, mixing after each addition. Mix dough with a dough hook (or by hand) until a smooth dough forms (still sticky). After the butter is incorporated, add the raisins (remove excess water, if any). Gently mix until the raisins are incorporated into the dough.  Make the dough into a ball. Move the dough to a clean and greased bowl.
  6. Dough Rise 2. Cover the dough, and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours or until it’s puffy or proofed and doubled in size. Gently deflate the dough.
  7. Fold Dough (see the video in this post for a visual view). Move to a greased baking sheet or countertop (do not add extra flour use greased hands to work with dough). Start clockwise- by taking the top corner of the dough (12 o’clock position), pinch a corner of the dough and lift it up and let the dough stretch by lifting your hands up. Fold the stretched dough back on itself (6 pm location). Turn the dough clockwise so (your 12 o’clock position is now the 3 pm location). Repeat the same process of stretching and folding the dough onto itself 3 times total. This fast process takes about 1 minute from start to finish.
  8.  Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes and repeat the folding process 2 more times with these exact directions of stretching and folding.
  9. Shape Dough. Bring the corners in toward the center to form a ball, and pinch the loose ends together. Cup your hands around the dough to round the ball. Place it in a well-buttered or sprayed panettone pan, mold paper, or other straight-sided, tall 1 1/2- to 2-quart pan.
  10. Dough Rise 3. Let the dough rise in a warm place until it reaches over the rim of the mold, about 1 1/2- 2 hours (time varies depending on humidity and temperature). You want the dough just at the rim or slightly above the mold. When the rise is complete, brush the top with egg wash. Make cross cuts on the panettone with a sharp knife, and put a small pat of butter in the center of the cake. Sprinkle with the desired amount of pearl sugar (optional).
  11. Bake. Bake the cake in a preheated 375°F oven for 10 minutes; then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for about 30-35 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil if the top of the panettone appears to be browning too fast.
  12. When finished baking, the Panettone bread or cake should be a deep brown color. It will sound hollow when tapped and will read 190°F at the center using a digital thermometer. It’s easy to underbake panettone since the top can brown quickly. Remove the panettone from the oven and cool completely.
  13. Rest. To cool the panettone- pierce each side with a bamboo skewer (or these panettone hangers), flip it over, and hang it between two tall jars. Hanging it upside down for a few hours prevents the panettone from caving in on itself. You do not have to cool it upside down. You can cool it on a cooling rack. 
  14. Storage. Store at room temperature, well-wrapped, for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.

Notes

Top Tips for Panettone Recipe

  • Use room temperature ingredients. Room temperature ingredients for baking give optimal results.
  • Make sure you are working with yeast that is NOT expired, or you will do a lot of work for nothing ;).
  • Follow the recipe exactly and be patient with the dough rising at the different stages. Find the warmest place in your home, or use a proofing oven.
  • Use a kitchen scale and measure your ingredients.
  • Hydrate the raisins in a bit of water, or they will be dry.
  • Baker’s Secret: When the bread is cooling poke it with two long metal or wooden skewers about 3-4 cm from the base. Then, let it rest upside down to cool completely. This will prevent the bread from collapsing while cooling.

Mix-in Variations 

  • Chocolate Chip – add chocolate chips (I love dark chocolate chips)
  • Pistachio Cranberry Panettone – dried cranberries, pistachios, orange zest
  • Black Forest Panettone – dried cherries, candied orange, chocolate chip
  • Rum-Soaked Raisins – use rum soaked raisins instead of soaking them in water

  • Author: Elena Davis
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes active time + overnight rise time
  • Cook Time: 55 minutes
  • Category: Sweet
  • Method: Italian
  • Cuisine: Italian

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About Elena

My dream is to share delicious wholesome recipes that you will share around the table with all your loved ones. The memories surrounded by food are the heart and soul of CucinaByElena.

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70 Comments

  1. This is my 2nd year making this panettone recipe- thank you-delicious! This time I am trying with my sourdough starter – 2nd rise on process now. I have found the dough to be quite wet both time, having to add a bit more flour, as you suggest in the recipe. I am guessing it could be egg size … I tend to have x-large in the house. Also the water quantity could account for the wetness- it seems that 150g is a bit more than 1/2 cup.
    I‘ll be baking 2 small panettones vs one large …can you recommend times for sizes for other sizes?






      1. Thank you for your quick reply! The panettones look and smell wonderful! We can’t wait to try them!






  2. Thank you for this delicious recipe. I have made it a few times with cherries and chocolate and everyone loved it. I am writing with a question about the first step of Dough Part 2, where you mix in the second part of the flour to get a shaggy mixture and let it rest before adding the eggs. Why is this done? I have found it difficult to get a smooth dough after adding the eggs because of the dry flour bits. It takes a lot of kneading to develop a smooth dough. Can you add the second part of the flour together with the eggs? Thanks so much. Buon Natale!






  3. This recipe is delicious and I appreciate the careful instructions. I have made the cherry and chocolate version a few times that everyone really enjoyed. I have a question about the first part of Dough Part 2. Why do you mix in the second half of the flour and let it sit before adding the eggs? I’m finding this shaggy mixture hard to work with and it takes a LOT of kneading after adding the egg mixture to make a smooth dough. I’m curious about what this step does. Can you add the eggs and second half of the flour together?
    Thanks so much for a wonderful recipe! Happy holidays!






    1. Hi Anita! Okay, I actually rested so many different methods and this way honestly delivered the fluffiest result (despite that weird shaggy stage). You can try it the other way and it will still work!

      1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply! Apologies for double posting the question – I thought it was not accepted the first time. Happy holidays!






  4. Hi, I Made this recipe last Christmas to huge success, and gave smaller breads out as part of my Christmas Breakfast Basket gifts. Everyone loved them, so am making again but with just one small question about timing. Does the proofing time have to be exact, or can the dough be left to rise a little longer if needed (because I am not here the whole time), completely covered of course? Thanks…






    1. Hi Susan! So happy everyone loved them and can’t wait for you to make more. For the first rise you can stretch it. For the second rise I wouldn’t go more than an hour over the recommend time since you don’t want it to overproof. All the best!

  5. Elena I love pannetone and have been looking for traditional recipe. I have access to Fioro di Sicilia flavouring which is a combination of vanilla, orange flavouring. Do you think I could replace the vanilla with this? Have you ever used it before. Also I would like to use parchment lined empty coffee tins for my pannetone. Any tips? I have two big tins. 6 “ wide and 6 “ tall.






    1. Yes! You can use that flavoring! I think they tins should work, but I have not tested it in that way. Make sure there is enough room for the rise and you are good. It does rise more when baking as well. Let me know how it goes!

  6. I would like to make this recipe using my sourdough starter. If I double the recipe should I also double the amount of sourdough starter from 190 grams to 380 grams? Also could I use sourdough discard or does the starter need to be freshly fed?






  7. I can’t wait to make this! I’d like to make them this Christmas and give them as gifts. Do you know how long they will last after baking and wrapped?

  8. I have a question – I have a 20cm ( 8”) diameter pannetone baking tin. How much flour etc do I need to make a loaf in that tin?
    Is it your 1x or 2x or 3x amount?
    Thank you
    Sheena

  9. Turned out great and it was delicious! I used ingredients I had at the time, only orange zest and dried cherries, sprinkled some granulated sugar instead. I have never tried panettone before, always have been wanted to but those we find everywhere during holiday season, not really….only one I wanted to try was very pricy, I decided to make my own. I looked many recipe and chose this one. I am so happy found this, it takes time but easy process, I already know I will make this over and over. Thank you so much!






    1. Hi Eriko! I am thrilled you landed on this recipe. I hoped to make a one-stop shop with everything you need for the best panettone. I am making another one this weekend for a friend. Enjoy.