Panettone - The Italian Christmas Bread
Ever wonder what’s inside those dome-like boxes that some grocery stores display around Christmas? This is Panettone and let’s take a dive into what it is exactly and why it is so popular this time of year!
What is Panettone?
Pronounced “pah-net-taw-nee”, Panettone is a sweet, cylindrical shaped bread with a domed top. It originated from Italy, Milan areas to be specific. It is often made with raisins, almonds, candied fruit peels, and brandy. Traditionally, this bread is served on Christmas day and a leftover slice is saved to be consumed later on February 3rd. This is to honor San Biagio (Saint Blaise) who is known for saving a choking child by giving him a piece of bread. Many Italians make it a yearly tradition to buy Panettone as a Christmas present. These traditions were brought over to North America when people began migrating in the 1900s. As a result, Panettone can easily be found in Italian bakeries and grocery stores.
Is Panettone a Cake or a Bread?
Many people confuse it to be a cake, however, it was originally created as a bread. The reason why this treat often gets confused for being a cake is because of how it is served. The traditional way of serving Panettone is by slicing the loaf with a serrated knife, just like one would do with a cake and once the bread is sliced, the servings with the dried fruits resemble a sweet piece of cake. Thus, it is usually counted as a dessert.
The Process of Making a Traditional Panettone
The preparation procedure is complex and difficult. This bread has a sour dough base and it can take approximately 3 days for the dough to rise. Once the baking process is over, the bread is hung upside down to rise. This is why the bread has a dome top! Each artisan Panettone is usually hand wrapped and packaged in paper.
In Italy, bakeries must follow a set of guidelines: It must be composed of no less than 20% candied fruit, 16% butter, and eggs that are at least 4% yolk. These guidelines are followed because candied fruit is usually heavy and the dough needs to hold that weight evenly.
Pandoro Vs Panettone: What is the Difference?
Pandoro is also a sweet bread that is consumed during the Christmas season in Italy. This is where the similarities end and where a few slight differences begin! Pandoro originated from Verona and normally has a star-like shape to it. The main ingredients are flour, eggs, sugar and butter. The dough does not include candied fruit or brandy.
What Makes a Good Panettone?
Here are few hints and tips to choose the best Panettone quality:
- The bread itself should be heavy and has a beautiful golden color.
- It has a strong, yet heavenly aroma once you begin slicing the bread.
- The taste is usually rich and buttery.
- It tears into airy strips (just like Mozzarella cheese) and doesn’t really have much of a bread-like structure to it.
How Long Does Panettone Stay Fresh?
While you can freeze the bread to preserve it longer, it is known to have a longer than usual expiry date. It can last about 4 to 6 months. If you purchase one with flavored creams, expect the expiry date to be much shorter.
Even with the longer than usual expiry date, did you know that you can even eat it stale? Here are a few ways you can try it stale:
- Use it to make bread pudding.
- Croutons for a winter salad! This would be a good way to mix in with your leafy greens. Try adding blue cheese and figs along with a good dressing.
- You can add it to a Tiramisu or a Trifle, instead of using ladyfinger cookies.
- You can make it into a delicious French toast!
What Combination Can it be Served With?
You can serve it with:
- Mascarpone cream (italian cream cheese, it is similar to our cream cheese but is made with a heavy cream instead of whole milk)
- Chocolate sauce
- Crema inglese – a light pouring custard
This bread makes a tasty breakfast to accompany your morning coffee or a dessert after your evening meal. When served as an evening dessert, a lovely glass of Marsala wine or sparkling Moscato may work well with it.
Amongst Italians, it is suggested not to serve this bread by removing only the top dome and eating it by itself because it is considered bad luck.
“While earning your daily bread, be sure you share a slice with those less fortunate.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr. (Author)
The tradition of giving Panettone as a gift can be traced back to as early as the 1400s. In Italian culture, the gift of bread symbolizes a wish for the homeowner to never go hungry. With Christmas being the season of giving, this wonderful Italian tradition can inspire us to make our own donations, for example, to your local food banks. What a nice gesture for nobody in your community to grow hungry, especially around the holidays!
While different civilizations have been using various methods to share food with the hungry for centuries, the first soup kitchens in the modern sense emerged in the late 18th century by Sir Benjamin Thompson, mostly known as Count Rumford (Bavaria). The British-American Count was a prominent advocate of hunger relief, writing essays that were widely read across Europe. At the end of the 18th century, soup kitchens were to be found throughout England, Wales, and Scotland, with about 60,000 people being fed by them daily in London alone. This concept spread to North America after the Great Irish famine. In the 1880s, a bakery in New York City’s Greenwich Village, “Fleischmann Model Viennese Bakery,” instituted a policy of distributing unsold leftover baked goods to the poor at the end of their business day.
On the other hand, food banks are a relatively new concept. The first food bank, called St-Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, was established in the United States in 1967 by a retired businessman and soup kitchen volunteer named John van Hengel. One of the soup kitchen attendees was telling Van Hengel on how she rummages through the grocery store’s garbage bins in search of food to feed her family. She suggested that there should be a place for people to collect food items. She compared this place to a bank. Banks store money for future use, why not have a place that can store food for future use? Instead of throwing food away, why not store it and give it to people who need it? With that, an industry was born!
The first year St-Mary’s food bank was established, Van Hengel and his volunteers gave 275,000 pounds of food to people in need. By 1977, food banks were propping up all over the United States and could be found in 18 cities.
In Canada, the first food bank was born in 1981 and it started in Edmonton, Alberta. In 1987, the Canadian Association of Food Banks was formed. This association was created by the Canadian food bank community and its goal was to represent food banks nationally. Today, there are over 700 food banks and 3,000 food programs available in Canada.
Volunteers organizing food stock
How Can You Help?
- Did you know that over 50% of the food waste in Canada comes from households? Donate food items that you are no longer in need of.
- Organize or attend an event where attendees have to donate non-perishable canned goods as an entrance fee.
- Many grocery stores have boxes available where you can drop food items on your way out.
- Organize an event at your place of work where your coworkers can donate non-perishable food items, clothing and toys to charity.
- If making a donation is difficult, volunteering can be a great way to help your local food bank community.
Bring your food donation to your local food bank
Wondering What Items Are Most in Demand?
- Grains (such as high fiber cereals, oatmeal, brown rice and whole grain pasta)
- Proteins (canned tuna, peanut butter, cans of dried beans or lentils)
- Fruits and vegetables (note: some donation bins only take non-perishables)
- Foods for special diets (i.e., sugar free, lactose free, gluten free, heart healthy, Kosher)
- Baby products (jars of baby food, formula, diapers, bottles, clothes, wipes)
- Hygiene products (note: many places require the items to be new and unopened – soap, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, dish soap and laundry detergent)
- Some places accept clothing (coats, scarves, boots, hats, gloves)
There are all kinds of food banks available, be it through your city of residence, community centers, schools or place of worship. Most food banks will accept anyone and don’t really have a criteria for eligibility but it is always a good idea to call or check their website first. What items you get at a food bank and how much food you get depends on the ones available in your area. To find a food bank near you, check out Find a Food Bank.
Now that we have learned a little more about this wonderful Italian sweet bread, will this be on your Christmas shopping list? If so, feel free to use Dessert Advisor’s search tool to find out where you can find Panettone near you!