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Genoese Sweet Bread (Pandolce)

This delicious sweet bread, flavoured with pine and pistachio nuts and fennel, is the speciality of Genoa, in northern Italy. Serve on its own or with lots of butter.

ingredients

one 1 1/4 kg (2 1/2 lb) loaf
25 g (1 oz) Fresh yeast
175 g (6 oz) 3/4 cup Sugar
425 ml (14 fl oz) 1 3/4 cups Lukewarm milk
900 g (2 lb) 8 cups Flour
1 tsp Salt
3 Tbs Orange-flower water
75 g (3 oz) 6 Tbs Butter, melted
50 g (2 oz) 1/3 cup Pine nuts
50 g (2 oz) 1/2 cup Pistachio nuts
175 g (6 oz) 1 cup Raisins, soaked in 3 Tbs Marsala for 30 minutes and drained
2 tsp Fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp Aniseed, crushed
50 g (2 oz) 1/3 cup Candied lemon peel, chopped
50 g (2 oz) 1/3 cup Candied citron, chopped
Grated rind of 1 orange

method

1. Crumble the yeast into a bowl and mash in 1/2 teaspoon of sugar with a fork. Add 4 tablespoons of the milk and cream the mixture together. Set the bowl aside in a warm, draught-free place for 15 to 20 minutes or until the yeast mixture is puffed up and frothy.

2. Sift the flour, salt and remaining sugar into a warmed mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture, the remaining milk and the orange-flower water. Add the melted butter and, using your fingers or a spatula, gradually draw the flour mixture into the liquid. Continue mixing and beating briskly until all the flour is incorporated and the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

3. Turn the dough out on to a floured board or marble slab and knead it for 10 minutes, reflouring the surface if it becomes sticky. The dough should be elastic and smooth. Rinse, dry and lightly grease the bowl. Shape the dough into a ball and return it to the bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has risen and almost doubled in bulk.

4. Turn the risen dough on to a floured surface. Using your fingers, push out the dough until it forms a square about 1 cm (1/2 in) thick. Sprinkle over the nuts, raisins, fennel seeds, aniseed, peel, citron and orange rind. Roll up the dough Swiss (jelly) roll style. Push into a square again and, using the heel of your hand, flatten it out to about 2 1/2 cm (1 in) thick. Roll up Swiss (jelly) roll style again.

5. Shape the dough into a round and arrange on a well-greased baking sheet. Return the dough to the warm, draught-free place for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until it has almost doubled in bulk.

6. Preheat the oven to fairlv hot 190°C (Gas Mark 5, 375°F).

7. Make three cuts in the top of the dough to make a triangular shape. Put the baking sheet into the centre of the oven and bake the bread for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to warm 170°C (Gas Mark 3, 325°F) and continue to bake the bread for a further 1 hour.

8. Remove the sheet from the oven. Tip the bread off the baking sheet and rap the underside with your knuckles. If it sounds hollow, like a drum, it is cooked. If it does not sound hollow, return the bread, upside-down, to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes.

9. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

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