The whole world probably knows the Italian Christmas cake called Panettone. But, before I lived here I had only had poor, mass produced versions of the wonderful cakes. I bought them in specialty stores in the US and they were dry and stale.
After moving to Italy we saw that the cakes were just everywhere. They showed up as early as September. Talk about pushing the season! And by December entire supermarket aisles were dedicated to piles of the boxed cakes. All types. There are two traditional types of cakes…one has candied fruit. I’m not a fan of candied fruit myself. But there are other types. The second type of cake is pandoro. Plain cake with lots of butter in it and it is powdered with sugar when served. The Italians seem to be split in their preferences of these two holiday cakes. No Christmas dinner is complete in Italy without either panettone or pandoro, but often both. It is a real problem for many Italian families, because they are often split between panettone lovers and pandoro lovers. Some think pandoro to be too plain and buttery; the group usually don’t like raisins and candied fruits which are always in traditional panettone. So often, there are both types to please all people.
Pandora came from Verona. Pandora means “golden bread”. It is yellow in color and shaped like a star. It is dusted with powdered sugar before it’s served. It looks much like pound cake but since it is made with yeast, it is light and airy, rather than dense like pound cake.
Photo courtesy of Italian Gourmet
Panettone came from Milano originally. It is a yeasty cake filled with raisins and candied fruit and dome shaped. A legend shared with me by my friend says the name came from the fact there was a banquet in Milano and the original dessert got burned. A pastry chef, named Toni, made a quick cake from left over ingredients and it turned out to be a big hit. All the attendees asked what it was called, and the head chef said “pane di Toni” hence the name 🙂.
Photo courtesy of Gambero Rosso
We have bought cakes from the grocery store. And we’ve bought cakes from a specialty wine shop. We even brought them back to the US in our suitcase for gifts on trips home at Christmastime.
But this year I decided to order a fresh one from our local bakery. It is family run and produces delicious bread and pastries all year, but at Christmas they put their energies into artisanal cakes. They do have the two traditional ones but they also have some amazing other flavors and types, from chestnut to chocolate to pistacchio.
Oh my goodness! What a difference. The cake was amazing! I will never buy a mass produced cake again. Yes, it was a LOT more expensive but it is artisanal — baked right down the street from us in the family run forno. So you pay for that. There were all kinds of cakes to choose from lined up on the counter when I visited to order mine. There were the traditional ones, of course, but there was a magnificent chocolate one covered in chocolate icing and sprinkles! And one enormous one which looked like it would feed an entire extended family! The one I chose was pistacchio with a frosting studded with whole nuts. Inside were cherries juicy and whole, not candied. And it was filled with a pistacchio cream. Oh my! I ordered it for a dinner at our house and the six of us nearly ate the whole thing.
If you ever get the chance to eat one of these fresh bakery made cakes, jump at it!