It wouldn’t be Christmas without panettone, the quintessential Milanese sweet treat that’s eaten around the world. It’s traditionally baked in a dome shape with raisins, candied orange, citron and lemon zest, but variations include chocolate, amaretto, cappuccino and various creams.

Legends abound as to its origins, one attributing the creation to a 15th century scullery boy called Toni who saved the night at a duke’s banquet when the chef burnt dessert; another crediting a young nobleman who fell in love with the daughter of a baker named Toni and created Pan de Toni to win her hand. The bakery prospered and they lived happily ever after.

A Veronese variant without fruit is pandoro, a tall, golden sweet bread, shaped like an eight-point star that’s served dusted with vanilla-scented icing sugar (it comes in the box) to resemble snowy Alpine peaks. Take a tip from our experts and empty the icing sugar into the cellophane packaging, then shake to coat.

Both panettone and pandoro are served cut in vertical slices.

“Unless you’re in a rush — then you just open the box, tear off a piece and off you go, ” says Lorenzo Schiaffini, head chef from Jamie’s Italian in the CBD.

“At the table, manners rule, of course. Back home, we’d buy five or six and nonna would pick her favourite for Christmas because it’s not something you would generally make yourself. We attempted it a couple of times but you have to prove the dough for about three days using a mother yeast. Why would you bother when it’s more fun going out and choosing one?”

Make that several, because Italians traditionally stock up.

“My cousin buys 20 when they’re on special, ” says Daniela Pirone, of My Kitchen Rules fame.

“I would always remember buying one with the prettiest box when I was growing up but people get them as Christmas presents now. “We’d usually have at least six on the table — they come in different flavours — and one will easily be eaten in half an hour. My kids are grown up and my son could eat a whole one straight up. Actually, so could I.

“Both panettone and pandoro are great for breakfast. The idea is you have enough to keep you going for a few weeks — or even to Easter. Me? I love it dunked in milk but you can do so many things, like scoop out the middle and fill with ice-cream.”

Which means one is never enough. There are plenty of flavoured varieties, so take your pick. Perugina even makes a Baci panettone that’s shaped like the original chocolate with bittersweet chocolate coating and chocolate-hazelnut filling.

“My wife once suggested making bread and butter pudding out of the leftover panettone and I said, ‘Over my dead body’, but she went ahead anyway — and it was divine, ” Mr Schiaffini said.

“Normally, though, we’d have it with a vino santo, or you can even dip it in grappa. The texture has to be nice and fluffy; then there’s the fragrance. It should smell good as soon as you open the box.”


© The West Australian

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