29 Nov 2016
An Italian Christmas table isn’t fully set without panettone. Don’t know what that is? Read on to discover why we love it, and why you’re sure too as well.
WORDS: Jessica Zoiti
Until marrying into an Italian family, panettone was one of those grocery items I’d stroll past with barely a cursory glance. Found only during the festive season, there’d be dozens of them stacked high at the end of supermarket isles. Yet, for some reason the boxes of butter-coloured bread, peppered with raisins, always failed to spark my curiosity.
How ignorant I was! Now, like the generations of Italians who’ve come before me, I can’t imagine our family Christmas get-togethers without generous slabs of panettone being passed around.
Here’s all you need to know…
So what is panettone?
Other than totally mouth-wateringly delicious? Panettone is a rich, brioche-like bread that’s fluffy, light and totally moreish. Today, producers have got creative and make panettone with chocolate, liqueurs (think limoncello) and other fruits, like pear, cherry and apple.
The sweet bread is made with flour, butter, eggs, yeast, milk, currants, orange zest and often nuts. Before baking, it’s typically left to proof for hours allowing it to rise to the tall, rotund shape for which it’s renowned.
The story of Panettone
Born from the Italian word panetto, or ‘small loaf cake’, the bread originated in Milan in the 18th century but became mainstream in the early 20th century when bakers decided to make the stuff in large batches, driving down the cost and turning it into a popular gift.
Today, the word ‘panettone’ literally means ‘big bread’ and is still a festive gift popular for its rich history and tradition. It’s also shared among family and friends at Christmas as a celebration cake served with coffee, desert wine and my favourite – a tall sparkling glass of prosecco.
How to eat panettone
When it comes to eating panettone, I always feel simple is best – toast it, slather it with butter or mascarpone, or eat it plain with a sharp espresso.
But panettone is far more versatile than it may initially seem. Left over panettone, particularly, is great for adding a twist to bread and butter puddings, trifles and cakes. My mother-in-law slices her leftover bread horizontally then adds layers of rich, home-made chocolate custard, finishing the creation with lashings of whipped chocolate ganache and toasted almonds. It is possibly the most incredible thing I have ever eaten!
Picking a panettone
It’s important to note that not all panettone is created equal. From discount supermarkets to gourmet providores you’ll find it in every shape, size, flavour, price and wrapping imaginable. If you’re looking to weave your way through the panettone jungle, here are a few tips to put you on the right path.
- Make sure it’s made with 100 per cent real butter and natural yeast, not margarine or vegetable oil.
- Check its date of production. Panettone does last an awfully long time (and freezes well too) however natural ingredients are always affected by heat. New season panettone that arrives in Australia closer to Christmas is a better bet for freshness and quality.
- Buy from small businesses – large supermarkets and national chains often stock mass-produced goods that can be sold at cheaper prices. Small retailers may be more expensive but trust me. You get what you pay for!
The Black Truffle stocks a small range of artisan panettone each Christmas.
This year, choose from Rustichella D’Abruzzo panettone classic (500g, $55), Rustichella D’Abruzzo panettone fiche e cioccolato 750g (fig and chocolate – 750g, $60), Rustichella D’Abruzzo panettone con amarene 750g (cherry – 750g, $60), G.Cova Panettone classico (1.12kg– $55), and G.Cova Pandoro (750g, $46.95).
Grab yours before stocks run out!