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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Breads, on December 5th, 2008.

panettone slices, hot out of the oven
You’ve all seen the big, tall cylindrical boxes of panettone available around holiday time, right? I think our Costco even carries them. And until a few years ago I’d never tried it – because I reasoned – how could any bread be good when it’s made in Italy, shipped across the ocean and kept for likely several months before I buy it. I mean – bread I bake here at home is stale within a day or two, so how could this be any good? Then we were given one as a gift, and I let it sit for a few more months before I finally said, okay, gotta open this thing up, so I can tell the gifter “thank you.” I wanted to be able to say I’d at least tried it. Well, I was quite amazed. It was actually very good. A drier kind of crumb, but still it was quite tasty. It wasn’t stale (how do they DO that, I wonder?), just a bit on the dry side. Then we went to Italy a few years ago and lo and behold I had it there, and it was delicious. And not all that much different than the one I’d had that was shipped across the ocean.

But, I’d never considered making it. Although there are recipes out there, I just wasn’t convinced I’d be successful. Besides, I didn’t have an appropriate pan anyway (I thought). Then, earlier this week I was readiing Baker’s Banter. Detour here to explain. Those of you who are bakers will likely know all about King Arthur Flour. I’m a big fan of their products. I do buy the flour sometimes at my local markets, and I order things from their catalog now and then too. They have superior products, both food and non-food items. They test things. They have a test kitchen. And the bakers who work there in the test kitchen maintain this wonderful blog. There are a couple of people (maybe three?) who provide posts for the blog. They include copious photos. Lots of instructions. And usually very fun stories about what they do. If you are a baker, you definitely should read their blog, updated every day or two.

Okay, so I was reading the blog and they did a long, detailed explanation all about panettone bread. How they’d devised the recipe, what works and why. It was a very interesting read, just by itself. Then and there, I decided to try making this – in my old, dented, but trusty tube pan. The King Arthur recipe was for what they called American-Style Panettone (with the fruitcake kinds of fruit). If any of you have been long-time readers of my blog, you already know I detest usual fruitcake. Can’t abide it. I have yet to make my Bishop’s Bread this year (the one that contains walnuts, maraschino cherries and chocolate chips rather than that icky glaceed fruit stuff). Bought the cardboard pans the other day, but haven’t made the bread itself. I will in coming days. But in the write-up about this panettone, they mentioned another recipe they’d worked on for apricot and crystallized ginger panettone. Wow, that sounded good, I thought. The first recipe calls for an ingredient most people won’t have – Fiori de Sicilia. It’s a vanilla-like essence (means flowers of Sicily). I bought a small bottle of it from King Arthur some years ago to make a sugar cookie (that I’ve not blogged about, but I should). If you don’t have it, don’t not make this because of that. Just add a bit more vanilla instead.

If you click to the Bakers Banter printable recipe for either one, you’ll have a choice of volume or weight (choose weight if you have a kitchen scale). I used the recipe from the American-Style Panettone, but the fruit ideas from the ginger and apricot one. The two recipes are different – in both the sponge and the bread recipe itself, so you choose. I went with the first one, but I added more fruit (golden raisins, some chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, the ginger . . . and I soaked the dried apricots in dark rum). I hoped for a nice bread to make our morning toast.

panettone dough rising in a tube pan

The recipe is not difficult, but it’s certainly more verbiage than a normal recipe. So I’m not going to write it up in total – I’ll just point you (above) on the way to find King Arthur’s recipe. I followed it to the letter – including choosing the version “by weight,” meaning that I measured every ingredient by weight on my kitchen scale, rather than volume. And really, I repeat, it is NOT difficult to make. You start with a biga (a sponge) the night before which I left below my cabinet lighting for the full 12 hours. Then you combine it with other bread ingredients, mix up using your bread machine or stand mixer with dough hook. It is a very sticky dough – nothing like a traditional loaf. Except for sprinkling just a bit of flour on my granite countertop to mold it into the form that will fit in the tube pan, I stuck with the recipe exactly (well, except for the fruit additions). Then it was allowed to rise. That takes awhile, what with all the fruit in it. You’ll want to do this on a day when you’re going to be around home since you can’t just go off and leave it all day. A few hours in strategic places, yes. All day, no. It does take the better part of 24 hours, but well worth it.

The verdict? What do you think by looking at the photo? This reminds me some of Stollen (which I used to make every year when I baked bread for extra money back years and years ago when my daughter was a baby). Probably Stollen is the German version of Panettone, or vice versa. They’re very similar in texture, but very different in shape. I’m sure there must be a story about that – probably something to do with the Pope’s hat, or something. You think? No, after searching at wikipedia, it’s nothing like that. There are several legends about the bread, but one specific baker decided to make the shape we know, rather than a loaf style. Soaking the fruit in wine is not the custom (oh well, I did anyway, in rum). The traditional panettone is filled with just lemon zest and citron. The perfume in my kitchen was just lovely from the rum.

Here’s the fruit I added to the dough:

  • 2 ounces crystallized ginger, minced in tiny pieces
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped
  • 2/3 cup dried apricots, minced with scissors then soaked in about ¼ cup rum (drained after soaking 30 minutes) and tossed with about 2 T. of flour

If none of this interests you, be sure to buy a ready-made Italian panettone loaf this year and try it. Last year I bought one that contained a few bits of chocolate. It was good; that’s why I added chocolate to the panettone I made yesterday. Since making this was so easy (but I’m not intimidated by yeast breads, either) I’ll likely do it again.

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  1. PJ Hamel

    said on December 7th, 2008:

    Carolyn, looks WONDERFUL. Glad the recipe worked out for you. I don’t like those icky fruit peels and candied stuff, either; that’s why I use golden raisins, apricots, and dried pineapple, and maybe dried cranberries. But ginger – YES! Next time… Happy holidays! PJ Hamel, King Arthur Flour baker/blogger

  2. Joan Landers

    said on December 12th, 2008:

    Carolyn, thanks so much for sharing some of this wonderful panettone with us. It was absolutely wonderful!!!!

    Am so glad you enjoyed it. We’re down to our last two small pieces. I may have to make it again – and give you a couple more samples so Tom can have at least one or two pieces. . . . Carolyn

  3. Mimi

    said on December 11th, 2009:

    I love panetone and yours looks scrumptious!

    Thanks, Mimi. It really was good, and I’ll be making it again this Christmas. . . carolyn t

  4. Joanne

    said on December 13th, 2009:

    Coming from an Italian home, we are usually given MANY loaves of panettone during the holiday season. I love the texture of it, although I don’t like the ones with the glaceed fruit. I prefer the plain versions or the chocolate chip ones. This looks excellent, however! Crystallized ginger and dried apricots are two of my favorite dried fruits/spices. Delicious.

    The chocolate chips, dried apricots & crystallized ginger are favorites of mine, too, that’s why I made it with that combination. . . carolyn T

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