Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pazzo for Panettone!

For one month of the year Italians go crazy [pazzo] for panettone. If anything could be classified as a national festive cake, you need look no further. You know that Christmas is approaching in Italy when supermarkets replace autumnal displays of chestnuts, porcini mushrooms and pumpkins with pyramid-shaped mountains of boxed panettone cakes. Come the 15th of January, once the dregs have been cleared in the sales, you won’t find a panettone for love or money.

There are many legends which lay claim to the origin of panettone.  One of these dates its origin back to the 15th Century, when a Milanese nobleman Ughetto degli Atellani, fell in love with the daughter of a poor baker named Antonio.  To win her love, the nobleman disguised himself as a baker and invented this rich bread.  After having tasted the rich bread, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro Sforza, gave his permission to the marriage and the new cake-like bread gained popularity.  Another, much more simple explanation finds reference to a ‘Pan dei ton’ in the 1300s which translated means ‘luxury bread’ in Milanese dialect.

Today panettone has achieved a national popularity that is largely unparalleled. It’s a subject of considerable debate and speculation. Which brand/ or brands of panettone are you buying this year? Do you opt for an artisan panettone, made by hand, or a mass-produced industrial version made by the likes of Bauli, Motta, Tre Marie or one of the many supermarket-own brands? Do you go for a traditional panettone made with canditi (a mix of orange and lemon peel) or a version from Verona traditionally made without the candied fruit? Alternatively, do you opt for one of the many more recent adaptations made to placate modern tastes such as with chocolate or chocolate drops or chocolate cream or chocolate topping or vanilla cream or almond topping etc., etc., etc!!! You get the idea. The range is staggering and it’s no wonder that you can be left feeling a little bewildered and overwhelmed.

Italians are pragmatic when it comes to panettone. Two factors determine decision-making: cost and quality. The difficulty is that Italians will seldom ever buy just one panettone. It’s custom today to give them as gifts, so it doesn’t come as a surprise when someone arrives at the doorstep holding a boxed panettone in one hand, a bottle of spumante [sparkling wine] in the other. Buying just one panettone doesn’t happen – hence, I guess, the huge supermarket stockpile. Personally, I buy anywhere up to a dozen every year and my thinking goes like this. For gifts, I’ll buy a decent supermarket variety – how decent depends on the recipient. If the postman has delivered a particularly good service over the year, it will reflect in the brand. If the neighbours have been giving me trouble about my dog, it’s a supermarket own brand, I’m afraid. As for the house, there’s no consensus. My wife enjoys nothing better than a non-descript supermarket brand (€2.50), no thrills but excellent for dunking into a cafĂ© latte in the morning. I like the rustic, traditional artisan version whereas the kids want chocolate. They say there’s no pleasing everybody, but at Christmas you have to try and make an exception.


Mini panettone

If you have the time, homemade panettone, in my view, always tastes better. They taste buttery and unctuous and you have the luxury of being able to incorporate the ingredients of your choice. The following recipe is based on the classic Milanese version. I have also included a variation – stuffed mini panettone. I’ve used a mascarpone and candied peel for the filling. You could, however, substitute with chocolate drops, chopped nuts, dried fruits or a combination of any of the above.

Makes: 6
Ingredients for basic panettone
6 mini panettone cases
380g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
12g fresh yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
150g unsalted butter
65g candied peel
80g raisins or sultanas

To make the panettone, sift the flour and salt together in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast which has been dissolved in the milk and the whole eggs.  Mix enough flour with the milk to make a thick batter and leave to 'sponge' in a warm place for 30 minutes.  Next, add the egg yolks, sugar and softened butter and knead for about 5 minutes until you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough.  Let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.  Finally knock the dough down and gently knead in the sultanas and candied peel.  Divide the dough into 6 pieces and place into individual panettone cases and let rise until doubled in size.  This should take about 1 hour. 

Bake in a preheated oven at 170 C for 20 minutes and then cool on a wire rack.  Decorate with ribbon and serve.

As an alternative, you can fill the panettone with a mascarpone cream.

6 mini panettone (as above)
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of sugar
250g mascarpone cheese
50g candied peel
To make the filling, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and foamy.  Beat in the mascarpone cheese (leave the mascarpone out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using) and stir in the candied peel. Cut the tops of the panettone, scoop out a little of the filling and fill with the mascarpone cream. Place the lid back on, decorate and serve.

Customised Panettone

If you don’t have the time to make your own panettone, simply buy one at the supermarket and give it a rich makeover. It looks impressive and it tastes even better!

1 panettone (any supermarket variety will do)
2 egg yolks
2 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
250gm mascarpone
300gm chocolate grated
250ml double cream
Icing sugar for dusting

To customise your panettone, gently scoop out the middle of the panettone from the base with a knife. Make sure you leave enough around the edges so that the panettone keeps its shape. Crumble the insides into small pieces and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until you have a thick creamy consistency (about 2-3 minutes with an electric beater).Add the mascarpone (make sure it’s room temperature when you do so) and beat into the egg mixture. At this point, should you wish, add a shot of your favourite tipple. To finish the stuffing, fold in the crumbled panettone. Pack the mixture back into the shell and place on a large serving plate.

Gently heat the cream (making sure it does not boil) and then add grated chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and pour over the panettone. You don’t need to be too precise, allow the sauce to drip decoratively down the sides. Allow to cool and then dust with icing sugar and decorate as you please. 


  1. Welcome back Mario! Sono pazza per panettone! I love it, it is one of the best things about this time of year. I have never been brave enough to make one before. It is so much simpler just to buy it. I love your indulgent makeover panettone. I believe that I am just like your wife - a simple supermarket one is just perfect. It goes so well with the strong English tea that we have.

  2. Hi Cathy! Great to be back. I've been away truffle hunting in the mountains. My dog needed the exercise, as did I. I was just looking at the images on your recent posts... very relaxing, therapeutic. Tonight, if I can find the energy, I'm going to make chocolate chip panettone for the kids!!!

  3. Thanks Mario - I'm glad you liked my recent photos. I hope for your kids' sake, you found the energy to make that chocolate panettone - lucky them!