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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Panettone or Pandoro?










It’s the big question. The important one in Italian households during the Christmas season. The one asked by pollsters on the street and in surveys online. Namely, will it be Panettone or Pandoro in your home for Christmas? No small matter, and not an easy decision.

On the one hand, there’s the Panettone, the traditional Christmas bread of Milan. There are several legends, as sweet as the bread itself, explaining its origins. I like the one attributing the recipe to a baker named Toni, a servant in the kitchen of the powerful Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan in the late 1400s. A nobleman named Ughetto, pretending to be a kitchen apprentice, prepared a dessert for the daughter of Toni, with whom he was in love. The bread is a success, Ughetto gets his girl, the Duke approves of the marriage and has a new dessert, and the cake is forevermore called pane di Toni, panettone, Toni’s bread.

The process to make Toni’s bread is long and arduous, taking several days, and it is still lovingly prepared in the traditional method in special ovens all over Italy. The basic dough has remained the same for these centuries; the tall cylindrical shape we know today dates to the early twentieth century when a clever baker put a paper shape inside the baking pan to prevent the dough from overflowing. And today the panettone can be found with not only the traditional sultane, raisins, but also with a variety of other fruits, even chocolate chips.

On the other hand there’s the Pandoro, recently gaining in popularity as a holiday bread. Also Northern Italian in origin, Pandoro was originally created in Verona. Pandoro, pan de oro, meaning golden bread, gets its name from the rich color of the cake due to the eggs used for its leavening. What I like about it is its unique shape. Baked in a special pan, the cake, when turned out on a plate, assumes a shape not unlike a Christmas tree. And better, when sprinkled with powdered sugar the effect is of a snowy golden pine. And best, when sliced horizontally, the slices of cake are stars. And best best, some of the newer versions have custard hiding inside!

You can now understand the dilemma. Tough decision. But either way, it wouldn’t be Christmas in this region of Italy without a Panettone or a Pandoro.
Allora, dimmi, so tell me... panettone or pandoro?

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