This is a wonderful Easter bread, enriched with butter, Ricotta and eggs and delicately spiced with cinnamon and fennel. Originally from Rome and traditionally cooked in a round tin like panettone, it makes a lovely gift baked in loaf tins and wrapped in clear cellophane and tied up with pretty bow. As this is a sticky, loose dough, it's better made in an electric mixer such as a Kenwood, or KitchenAid.
- Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus about 6 hours proving and rising
- Cooking time: 60 minutes
- Total time: 1 hour 25 minutes, plus about 6 hours proving and rising
- 4 tsp dried, active (not easy-blend) yeast
- 50g golden caster sugar, plus 1 tsp
- 200ml hand-hot water
- 600g unbleached plain white flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- 4 large whole eggs
- 8 large egg yolks
- 100ml madeira or marsala
- 1 lemon, finely grated zest
- 75g Ricotta, at room temperature
- 250g unsalted butter, cubed and softened
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- Put the yeast into a large measuring jug and add 1 tsp sugar. Mix well, then whisk in the water to dissolve the yeast. Leave in a warm place for 10 minutes until frothy, then whisk in 100g of the flour to make a thick smooth batter, which will be your starter. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for about 1-2 hours until doubled in size (this could be done overnight in the fridge; in this case allow the starter to come back up to room temperature before progressing).
- Sift the flour, salt and cinnamon into the bowl of a food mixer. Add the sugar, fennel, eggs, yolks, alcohol and lemon zest and beat until well mixed. Pour in the yeast starter and beat until smooth and elastic; about 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to rise until doubled in size; about 1½-2 hours.
- Remove the clingfilm, add the Ricotta and soft butter and beat again until very soft and shiny and elastic; another 5 minutes. The dough will be very soft.
- Divide the dough between 2 buttered 1.5-litre loaf tins, filling the tins only halfway, or two-thirds at most. Cover with a clean, damp tea towel and leave till risen to the top of the tins (1½-2 hours). Uncover, brush with egg white and bake at 200°C, gas mark 6 for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C, gas mark 4 and bake for 45 minutes more. The tops should be well risen and golden brown.