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In a shallow dish, soak the raisins, apricots, and candied fruit in the liqueur, covering the dish but stirring through occasionally, at least 30 minutes or overnight. Toast the nuts in a frying pan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to color and become fragrant, about 7 minutes. Pour them out of the pan and set aside.
Heat the milk in a saucepan or microwave - just until it is warm (100 to 115 degrees F.). Pour the warm milk and the 1/4 cup of warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle on the yeast, then stir in the 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Wait about 5 minutes, until the yeast is foaming actively, then add 1/2 cup of the bread flour, stirring until smooth. Cover loosely and let stand 30 minutes.
Stir in the melted butter, the 1/2 cup of sugar, salt, eggs and egg yolks, orange zest, and the remaining 1 cup of bread flour. Stir well. Add the all-purpose flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition, until dough gathers and begins to pull away from the bowl.
Knead a few minutes on a floured board or in the bowl, adding flour if needed, until dough is soft, smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball. Wash and oil the bowl, turn the dough in the bowl to oil all over, cover loosely and set in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured board for a minute or so, then return it to the bowl for a second rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the panettone pans: The best choice is two empty 23-to 26-ounce coffee cans (the old 2 pound size).
Grease the inside (careful of the underside of the rim) cut a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom, grease one side and set it in place, greased side up. Cut a sheet of parchment paper 8 inches wide (enough to stick up above the coffee can about 2 inches) by 18 inches long (long enough to completely line the side plus 2 inches of overlap). Grease one side and set in place, ungreased side against the can, and unwind it so it fits against the can.
Lacking coffee cans, look for something else cylindrical, oven-safe, 5 to 6 inches in diameter and deep - maybe a small souffle dish? What you find will probably be too shallow, so the parchment will have to stick up well above the top of it. Proceed as above, but fasten it in the middle in addition to the top and bottom. To strengthen the part above the dish, wrap a doubled sheet of foil around the outside and tie it with string near the top of the dish.
Drain the fruit, reserving the liquid. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, pat it into a large rectangle and sprinkle with half the fruit and half the nuts. Starting from a short side, roll the dough up and tuck the ends under. Pat the roll into a large rectangle again (flour the board again if necessary), sprinkle with the remaining fruit and nuts and roll up again. Knead a few times, turning exposed seams inside the ball of dough, and divide in two. Shape each half into a round-topped loaf a little smaller across than the prepared pans, pulling the top surface of each tight.
Put each ball into a prepared pan (make sure it's all the way to the bottom, not stuck on the paper) and let rise about 1 1/2 hours.
Lower an oven shelf to make room for the tall loaves and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Make sure the risen dough in each pan has not caught on the bottom of the paper collar and lifted it. If it has, free the stuck place with a knife and fit the collar back down.
Cut an X in the tops if you like, then bake for 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake about 25 minutes more (longer if loaf is wider), until the tops are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the loaves 5 minutes in the pans, then remove and set upright on racks.
Combine the reserved fruit liquid with water to total 1/4 cup. If it's gone, combine 2 tablespoons of anise liqueur and 2 tablespoons of water (or mix 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 teaspoon anise extract). Put the liquid in a small saucepan and stir in the 3 tablespoons of sugar. Heat, stirring, just until the sugar dissolves. Brush the hot loaves all over, twice if there's enough liquid, and let stand to cool and dry completely. If keeping before serving (up to a week), wrap tightly in plastic or foil.
Slice thinly and serve.
Source: From my dear friend, Beverly
By Jodi from Aurora, CO
By Robin from Washington, IA
This moist and flavorful bread has been served in our home on Christmas morning for many years, and our grown sons consider "Christmas bread" one of our important family traditions.
Mix dry ingredients. Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs. Add flour mixture alternately with applesauce. Fold in cherries, nuts and extract. Pour into 2 greased 9x5 inch loaf pans.