Panettone is the Italian holiday fruitcake

If you’re going to eat something that resembles a fruit cake, make it the Italian fruit bread Panettone. “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” – Johnny Carson. Most of us cringe when we receive a fruitcake as a gift (check out the Fruitcake Sucks Facebooke page here).  If fruitcake overload is getting the best of you, I have a challenge for you. Step it up. Do yourself the favor and upgrade. Panettone is the elegant solution and absolutely beautiful to enjoy with your family and friends around Christmas and New Years.

Panettone is the dreamy bread of angels

WWJD? He’d upgrade from fruitcake to Panettone, so awaken your craving.

Panettone is an Italian sweet loaf of bread that will put a smile on anybody’s face. The word itself means “Bread of Luxury” (I’m not making this stuff up) and originated from Milan, which is a city that definitely knows luxury. This is a bread that was once only for nobility, so feel like royalty this holiday. Unlike the dense, dry hockey puck texture of fruitcakes, Panettone has a light, spongy, and fluffy texture due to its special leavening process. There is no fresh or dried yeast in this masterpiece, authentic Panettone uses a starter like those used in making sourdough bread.

The bread does not have a yeasty taste. Instead it is seductively flavored with citron, candied orange, lemon zest, and raisins. There are  other variations but this is the most traditional. It sounds too simple to be this good, correct? Just a sweet, fluffy, eggy, sourdough-inspired bread cake with citrus flavorings? Yes, you are right. But in this simplicity is pure elegance, an engaging melt in your mouth texture, and an intoxicating flavor that just encourages you to keep enjoying more. A detailed recipe, including how to make the Italian dough starter, can be found here.

panettone upclose from ale bufo's flickr

Panettone is elegant and a tasty canvas for experimentation

Even though I’m half Italian, we never really had Panettone at home. We’ve always had other Italian cookies and desserts laying around during the holidays. One year, I caught the cranberry battle of Iron Chef America. Mario Batali constructed a trifle using Panettone. It looked and sounded so amazing that I just had to try it myself. That next Christmas, I did and I will forever have Panettone in my house around the holidays. Here’s a recipe for this masterpiece.

In Italy, instead of Wonder bread it is customary to use Panettone for breakfast. It can be toasted and then smothered with butter. Slices of Panettone can also be used to make one solid french toast. You can spice that even further up but dipping the sliced Panettone into an eggnog mixture of eggnog french Panettone toast!

There are potential savory cooking options with Panettone. The most natural is using it for sandwiches. Think brie & ham or peanut butter & sriracha sauce – combos that accentuate and play well with citrus & sweetness. Another fun application is to toast the Panettone and grind it up into breadcrumbs. Then sprinkle them on top of a simple spaghetti / ravioli with browned butter or risotto or a salad.

My favorite ways to enjoy Panettone is for dessert, the arena it was truly made for, in my opinion. I enjoy it with a sabayon sauce with fresh mixed berries. Sabayon is an egg-based sweet sauce, similar in concept & preparation to hollandaise sauce but much sweeter and with no vinegar/lemon juice and butter. Another awesome way to eat Panettone is with melted dark chocolate and figs poured on top. Here are a few more dessert inspired Panettone recipes.

Loison's panettone

You can find Panettone in a lot of locations, particularly around this time of year. Trader Joe’s, Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods, and others will all carry them. Try to splurge a bit in order to ensure your purchase a higher quality Panettone product. Loison is one you can order online if you have the time.So pack up those fruitcakes and give ’em to your enemies and neighbors that annoy you. Go buy yourself some Panettone to enjoy and to share with those that are more deserving of fruitcake.

1 comment… add one
  • Tom Verghese Dec 24, 2010

    Dude, AJ and I are making panettone bread pudding today – I may or may not have seen Ina make it last week on BC…

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