Who doesn’t want a panettone for the holidays? If you know what I’m talking about, you know it tastes just like Christmas. Sadly, it’s not easily found abroad and also not so easy to make! How to get one when you live in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holidays in the same way?
It’s hard not to be home for Christmas…
Living abroad comes with its many rewards, but at a great cost sometimes. Living in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas the same way as other parts of the world, means that I haven’t been “home” to the USA for the holidays in over ten years. In the beginning this was depressing and I missed “home” in an heartbreakingly painful way.
I don’t remember exactly when, most probably after my first Christmas in Istanbul (in which a horrific Christmas Eve was spent dealing with a plumber at the apartment!) but at some point, I turned a corner. I realized that just because I couldn’t go all the way to America for Christmas, it didn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to find a way to still enjoy the holidays by making new memories and my own traditions.
Istanbul does celebrate with lights and Christmas trees and even Santa; it has adopted these traditions but celebrates on New Year’s Eve. However, I am very fortunate to still get 1-2 days to observe the official Christmas holiday and for the past 9 years have gone abroad to somewhere close enough for a weekend trip. This became my new holiday tradition. Wandering ancient ruins replaced usual holiday activities and instead of cooking, favorite restaurants were discovered to fill our hearts and bellies on Christmas Eve and Day.
…but you can always go to Rome or Athens!
The first few years I went to Rome for the Christmas weekend. As mentioned in other articles, I lived briefly in Italy before Turkey and consider it another sort of “home”. Italy is beautiful during this time of year and walking under the meters of lights flowing all the way down Via del Corso will stay with me forever. Although, one thing we didn’t anticipate was that lots of things are closed in Italy during Christmas. We had a hard time finding restaurants and even the metro had different hours.
When my friends suggested Athens in the years after that, it seemed to fit. Athens is a 50 minute flight from Istanbul, making it super easy in terms of time and availability. Since our first trip many years ago, Athens has stayed our Christmas destination. Restaurants stay open and families celebrate outside all together. The atmosphere is local and family friendly while still being festive. I no longer dread seeing the calendar getting closer and closer to the holiday season. I have something that I look forward to nearly all year and find that Christmas abroad is still “Christmas” anywhere in the world that you go, as long as you have some good friends around you and of course good food.
My holiday traditions usually now consist of donuts (“lukumades”) for breakfast and roasted lamb with lemon potatoes for dinner… with a view of the Acropolis. However, my traditions also still take place in Istanbul, in the weeks prior to the holidays and leading up to.
So I wanted to make my own Panettone (but I didn’t know how!)
So, a few years ago, my fellow expat friends and I started a cookie exchange. I work hard to get everything made and given out before I travel to Greece, which means that I usually have weeks of cookie dough prep and my house smells like a fairytale. But last year, during the pandemic and lockdowns, all I wanted for Christmas was a Panettone! Having had a few Italian Christmases, I love this holiday bread filled with raisins and dried fruit and I find it incredibly festive. Instead of cookies, I wanted to give everyone their own Panettone.
I began scouring the internet and watching hours and hours of videos. I felt defeated. I consider myself a pretty good baker… but the Panettone had me beat. The idea of making a kind of sponge days before to then add to the bread… I don’t even understand it as I am writing it now. Even buying Panettone here in Turkey is difficult. The Eataly branch in Istanbul is about the only place to buy one, but last year with curfews and restrictions, getting all the way to Eataly also proved tricky.
I started thinking. How could I make something that tasted like Panettone…but that wasn’t Panettone? Suddenly, it came to me! I could make a Babka but I could flavor it to taste like Panettone. Thus, I gave birth to the Panettabka!
Panettabka’s unique recipe
Babka is a sweet braided bread originated in the Jewish communities of Poland and Ukraine and I just love it. I would choose it over any other dessert, especially cinnamon babka which reminds me of cinnamon toast that I ate when I was a child. But how was I going to marry babka (which is stickier) with panettone?
Here’s the secret and unique recipe that I created, inspired by a panettone that I once ate at a bakery in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. It had chocolate, raisins and almonds and guess what? It tasted like Christmas!
(The following recipe yields 2 large loaves or 4 small and is adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Babka and Ottolenghi’s Krantz Cake)
– 5 c. (625 grams) all-purpose flour
– ¾ tsp. salt
– ½ c. (100 grams) of white granulated sugar
– 3 tsp. active dry yeast
– zest of a whole orange
– zest of a whole lemon
– 1 tsp. vanilla extract
– ¼ tsp. cinnamon
– 4 eggs (at room temperature)
– ½ c. plus 1 tbsp. (133 grams) warm water
– ⅔ c. (150 grams) butter
– ½ c. (100 g) currants/raisins/mixed fruit peel of choice
***I soaked mine in some cognac but this is optional
– 1 c. (320 grams) orange marmalade jam
– 1 c. (170 grams) chocolate chips or chocolate shavings **optional
– 1 egg beaten for an egg wash
– Sliced almonds to decorate the top
After Baking: Glaze:
– ⅔ c. (86 grams) water
– 1 c. (100 grams) white granulated sugar
**If you are NOT using a Stand Mixer, you would do all of this the same except you would incorporate the butter by hand. This means you would knead the butter into the dough, placing the dough on a countertop and working in the butter.
Day 1: Make the dough and let it rise for the 1st rise overnight in the refrigerator.
1) Stir the dry yeast into the warm water. Once the yeast is activated, add in the fruit zests, vanilla extract, sugar, and 4 eggs.
2) In another large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, and currants/mixed fruit peel.
3) Make a well in the center of the bowl that has the dry ingredients.
4) Pour the yeast/liquid mixture into the well of the dry ingredients. Use a spatula to stir this and combine this into a rough dough.
5) Leave this covered on the countertop for minutes to rest.
6) After the dough has rested, place it into the bowl of a stand mixer and using the dough hook, knead the dough.
7) Slowly, while kneading the dough, add in the butter by throwing in small chunks a bit at a time.
8) Once the butter is all into the dough and the dough is smooth and not sticky, it’s ready.
*This takes about 20 minutes using the stand mixer. It could take 1 hour by hand.
9) Cover the dough and refrigerate it overnight.
Day 2: Roll out, Fill, Shape, Bake and Glaze
1) Prepare two baking trays with parchment paper.
2) Take the dough out of the fridge and cut the dough ball into two equal spheres. Work with one sphere at a time (keep the other one in the fridge).
3) Pat the dough into a rectangle and use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a large even rectangle. It should be about 12 x10 inches (30 x 25 cm).
4) Spread the fillings onto the dough.
5) Roll the dough up into a log starting with the long side farthest away.
6) Place the log into the freezer.
7) Repeat with the other dough sphere.
8) Once both dough halves have been filled and shaped into a log, take them out of the freezer.
9)Cut each log down the middle lengthwise, exposing the middle layers.
10) Pinch together one end and twist the logs together making a rope.
11) Take one end of the dough rope and curl it up into itself to make a “rose” shape or a bun.
**This is for the circle Panettone shape. Two regular loaf pans could be used and then the rope would just be picked up and placed into the loaf tin.
Preheat the oven to 375 F (190°). Cover the babkas and let them rise for another hour to an hour and a half. They should be puffy and fat and shiny. Before baking, brush the babkas with egg wash and sprinkle on the almonds. Bake for 45 minutes. Glaze them when they come out of the oven and allow them to sit on the pans soaking in the glaze until completely cooled.