If you have stumbled upon this blog around the 25 December, Merry Christmas.
When Christmas approaches, in Italy one is the recurrrent question you might hear: do you prefer Pandoro or Panettone? To me, the first prevails on the second, but both equally resist on our tables. Certainly, one mystery has never been solved. If 90% of Italians, try to ask yourself to as many Italians as you can, hate the candied fruit Panettone contains, why do we continue to buy it? But let’s step back and see what exactly are the traditional Italian Christmas desserts.
This sweet comes from Milan, has a cilindric base and the shape of a cupola on top. Its origins are almost legendary.
Two seems the most plausible stories.
The first one talks about Sirrah Ulivo degli Atellani, a falconer, who lived in the Contrada delle Grazie in Milan. Since he was in love with Algisa, the beautiful daughter of a baker, he was hired by his father as a shop boy. To increase sales, he tried to invent a dessert. It took the best flour of the mill, added eggs, butter, honey and raisins and then baked what he had obtained. It was an absolute blast. Everyone wanted to taste the new cake and, some time later, the two young lovers got married and lived happily ever after.
According to the second version, the cook of Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan in the 15th century, was asked to prepare a banquet for the Duke himself and other nobles. He prepared a great feast but forgot the cake in the oven which burnt. The little kitchen boy, Toni, suggested to use a dough he had prepared earlier in the morning mixing flour, butter, eggs, raisins and the cedro zest. The cook agreeed to serve it but stood behind the curtains waiting for the reactions. It was a succes. When the Duke asked the name of the cake, the cook answered : it is the “pan de Toni”, the bread of Toni, which eventually became Panettone.
From being the handmade product of bakers and pastry makers, in the XX century Panettone started to spread all around Italy.
The traditional version consists in a sourdough with a very slow leavening. It is filled with raisins and candied fruit like cedro, lemon and orange zest.
You can find plenty of Panettone varieties. It can be cheap, you can find panettone at the supermarket for 4/5 euros, or expensive if you consider the artisanal ones made in renowned bakeries or patisseries.
For sure, my favourite is certainly the one with a chocolate crust and Piedmontese hazelnuts on top and pieces of crunchy dark chocolate pepita inside. Yes, I’m definitely one of those who do not like candied fruit inside Panettone.
And it can be also salty, like the Panettone gastronomico, a salty version with flour, butter, eggs but of course no sugar. It can be filled with ham, vegetables, mayonnaise and can be the perfect appetiser to start a sumptuous meal.
Even if in the ancient Rome there was a cake prepared with flour, butter and eggs, the origins of Pandoro have to be found in the homeland of Romeo and Juliet. But before arriving in Verona, we have to stop in Venice. Here there was a bread called Pan de Oro, bread of gold, whose recipe dates back to the 13th century.
The current recipe is an evolution of the 19tth century of a cake famous in Verona called Nadalin.
Pandoro has a frustum base that ends with an eight pointed star and is covered with vanilla flavoured icing sugar.
Also Pandoro can be extremely cheap. You can find good ones for few euros and then enrich them with the cream you prefer. The easiest way is to prepare or use an already made chocolate cream, or simply mix mascarpone and sugar. You just have to cut it horizontally one or two times and then spread the cream. A widely spread tradition is to leave it on the heater and eat it warm with nutella and cappuccino the morning after Christmas.
But if you are in Torino, you must try Ghigo’s version called Nuvola. The name means cloud, as it reminds of a white cloud.
Ghigo is a patisserie that dates back to the mid of the 19th century. Its renowned Pandoro with natural lievening is covered with a butter cream and icing sugar. It is simply delicious.