The tradition of Panettone , the holiday cake par excellence in Italy, has a very distant origin in time but its typical shape, which is somewhat reminiscent of a mushroom, is more recent and was introduced half a century ago.
The traditional recipe for Panettone includes few ingredients, but it has a lengthy preparation and it is made with a somewhat complex process.
The Panettone, once it rises and it gets its typical domed shaped top, must be hung upside down to cool down in order to avoid the ‘collapsing’ of the dome.
Some people do try preparing it at home but the results are very rarely close to artisan products one can buy at local pastry shops or confectionery shops.
A Panettone can range in price from about 5 euros for a classic supermarket-quality one up to 45 euros for an artisan high-quality product coming in flavors such as pears & chocolate or rhum & orange liqueur.
Ingredients for a classic Panettone are: flour, water, natural yeast (a sourdough of water and flour), sugar, butter, eggs, candied fruit and raisins.
The first appearance of Panettone seems to date back to the beginning of the 17th century but it’s at the end of the 19th century that it became a staple food for the holiday seasons and a symbol of a prosperous new year.
It is probable that at the end of the century Panettone was already known and appreciated in a large part of Italy, due to the continuous exchange that took place between Milan and other cities, at least those of Northern Italy. Not only that, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century a famous pastry shop in Milan already started shipping Panettone both around Italy and abroad, to countries with a high presence of Italian emigrants such as Argentina and the United States.
Industrialization led to the mass diffusion of Panettone , but it also gave it a uniform taste, favored among other things by the use of prepared bases instead of fresh ingredients.
Now Panettone has been protected as a “recipe-specific” baked product, in which butter and fresh eggs are required. However, emulsifiers are included, which are indispensable for an industrial bakery product, as well as some preservatives.
The difference between industrial and artisan Panettone lies precisely in the use of these additives, not so much in the preparation which is more or less the same. An artisan laboratory has fairly short preparation times, while large companies start production already in the summer, to be ready to supply supermarkets on a large scale in November and December. An industrial Panettone must therefore be able to remain soft for several months, without spoiling (this does not mean that it is necessarily poorer, this aspect also depends on the quality of the butter and other ingredients).
In any case, artisan production has grown more and more in recent decades…so much so that now in Genoa most pastry shops and cafes offer their own Panettone.
Also the variety of flavors is on the rise: chocolate chip, marrons glaces, candied orange peels, champagne, pistachio and limoncello flavored Panettoni are on offer.
The packaging of the Panettone is very important too…tin or resistant cardboard boxes, variously decorated. In short, the most beautiful can also be displayed on a piece of furniture or used as a container for toys, knick knacks or kitchen tools.
Panettone is a dessert usually accompanied with Moscato, a semi-sweet sparkling white wine which is mostly produced in nearby Piedmont.
Old Ligurian people say it is best to have a slice of Panettone in the morning dipped in caffelatte (a milk and coffee hot drink).
Panettoni hanging in a pastry shop for cooling down