Preparation / Directions:
Prepare the sponge by whisking the yeast into the milk, then mixing the liquid into the flour. Cover and let ferment at room temperature for about 45 minutes, or until nearly tripled.
For the dough, beat the butter with the salt and sugar until light. Add the flavorings (lemon zest, vanilla and rum) and beat until smooth. Add 2 eggs and continue beating until smooth and emulsified, appearing like butter cream. If the mixture remains curdled, warm the bottom of the mixing bowl in a pan of warm water for a second or two and continue beating. Re-warm the bowl as necessary and continue beating until smooth. Add one-third of the flour and mix in, then two more eggs. Repeat with another third of the flour, the last two eggs and the final portion of the flour. Beat in the sponge and beat the dough until smooth. Mix in the candied orange peel and the raisins, just until incorporated. Place the dough in a buttered bowl and allow to ferment until double, about two hours.
Turn dough out onto a floured board and deflate by folding it over on itself several times. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, shaping each into a ball. Place each in a separate well-buttered 2 to 2 1/2 quart charlotte mold or other straight-sided mold. Cover loosely and allow to proof until they rise to the top of their molds, about 2 hours.
Slash an "X" in the top of each panettone with a buttered scissors and bake at 375 degrees F for about 50 minutes. Unmold immediately and paint all over with the melted butter. Cool on a rack before wrapping.
Notes: A traditional Italian Christmas cake, yeast-risen. Double-wrapped in plastic after they have cooled, they should keep for several days in the refrigerator; bring to room temperature before serving. Malgieri warns that all the proofings and risings can't be rushed or "the process will produce a leaden texture." Makes 2 cake