Ah, panettone! That ubiquitous (at Christmas) sweet bread of Milan, golden, high-rising, studded with citron and citrus peel - yuck! If that's your reaction, it's probably because a) you haven't had a good panettone, made the traditional way with a starter, or b) you just don't like citron and candied peel. If this reaction (and its possible causes) is yours, read on. We often use a biga (overnight starter) when making ciabatta or other Italian loaves; we feel it helps bring out the wheat flavor in breads that might otherwise seem a bit plain. But in a sweet bread, loaded with sugar, butter and fruit - who needs a biga?
Well, as it turns out, panettone made with a biga has a moist, fine texture, and rises better than anything with that amount of sugar and fat has a right to. Though the dough still needs a big kick of instant yeast, the biga gives it the strength to take off and rise, despite the sugar and fat doing their best to retard the whole process.
And as for the fruit: our version uses our favorite combination of dried fruits: no citron, no peel. And, instead of the traditional tall, round loaf pan, which often results in a raw center and burned crust, we suggest the use of a tube or monkey bread pan, such as we use here.