Italy has many different Christmas sweets, ranging from simple cookies to extraordinarily elaborate puddings and cakes. Most are regional: Naples has struffoli, fried dough balls dipped in honey and decorated with candy sprinkles, Siena has panforte, a medieval fruitcake made with honey, and the Abruzzo region has caggionetti, fried ravioli stuffed with chestnuts and chocolate. But Pandoro and Panettone, the Christmas cakes of Verona and Milano, have become wildly popular throughout Italy, and internationally, because they can be baked in industrial quantities and will keep fresh long enough to be distributed over great distances.
Because of this, pastry shops most everywhere in Italy make panettone in addition to their local specialties. The traditional panettone is a light, airy cake with candied fruit and raisins in the dough, but these days many less-traditional variations abound: with frosting and slivered almonds on top, chocolate chips in place of candied fruit, custard or lemon-cream filling, or with chocolate frosting and orange-cream filling.
Pandoro, which is a light, airy cake made with a great deal of butter and baked in a high 8-pointed star-shaped pan, is generally simply dusted with powdered sugar, but these days it also comes with many different flavored fillings.
Some of the variations are obviously meant to accommodate people's preferences, for example panettone without candied fruit for those who don't like it, but the stuffed ones derive from the tradition of jazzing up one's holiday cake, and though they can be good it is much more satisfying to jazz up one's Panettone or Pandoro at home: You can tailor the filling to suit your tastes, and also include ingredients -- fresh berries, for example -- that couldn't be used in mass-produced cakes because they simply wouldn't keep.
Panettone is also an excellent base for puddings and other desserts, and this comes in handy because there is invariably leftover panettone to deal with on December 26th. Some enjoy leftover slices of panettone or pandoro, toasted and buttered for breakfast with a cappuccino, but if you recycle one following one of the recipes below, you'll have a fine dessert for New Year's Eve (Capodanno).
[Edited by Danette St. Onge]
- Classic Panettone Recipe
Milan's classic Christmas Cake.
An older recipe; difficulty: advanced.
- Modern Panettone Recipe
A somewhat easier, more modern recipe.
- Pandoro Recipe
Verona's buttery wonder adds a special dimension to Christmas.
Serving Ideas for Panettone and Pandoro:
All of these can be made with store-bought panettone or pandoro, at which point they become much easier to make
Pandoro Cake with Dessert Wine: Torta di Pandoro al Vino Passito
People often suggest pairing sweet with sweet wines. In this case the wine goes into a pandoro cake, and the results are very tasty.
Panettone filled with Mascarpone Cream: Panettone Farcito al Mascarpone
This is extraordinarily rich, and though it will take a bit of effort is well worth it.