At Christmas, Americans enjoy pumpkin pie, the English have plum or Christmas pudding and the Italians have Panettone. Just the mention of this sweet Milanese bread conjures up the aromas of citrus, vanilla, and candied fruit.
This staple of Italian festivities dates back as far as the Middle Ages when to celebrate Christmas, people would replace their daily bread with a richer recipe, a practice clearly documented in a 15th-century manuscript written by George Valagussa, one of the Sforza family’s tutors; however, many legends have grown up around the origin of Panettone.
A traditional Panettone loaf is cylindrical in shape with a cupola (domed) top. It should always be taller than it is wide, with a soft and airy interior beneath a dark exterior. Modern versions are now available with the fruit being replaced by chocolate, however traditionally it should be citrus flavoured fruit bread.
How you eat your Panettone is entirely up to personal choice. Some Italians will have it with coffee in the morning, while others prefer it as a mid-day treat with a glass of Marsala wine and then, there’s those who choose to have theirs after dinner as dolce with a good sparkling Moscato.
Panettone is seen by the Italians as an acceptable gift to take when visiting someone over the festive period and therefore, from the middle of November, Italian supermarkets and stores start to display the commercially made loaves. Packed in elaborately decorated boxes festooned with ribbons, this simple bread can command quite a high price.
The traditional way of serving Panettone is simply remove the paper liner and slice the loaf with a serrated knife as you would a cake, to get triangular wedges. A word of warning though, whichever way you choose to serve your Panettone: it’s worth noting that Italians consider it bad luck to remove the domed top and to consume it on your own.