When you think of panettone, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a buttery confection with candied citrus peel and sultanas. This is the 'classic' panettone, but everywhere you look there are now more and more different styles.
With candied fruit or without? How about a creamy filling? Icing on top? And what brand? The answers to all these questions are right here, in our panettone buyer's guide that will help you choose your perfect panettone.
What are panettone and pandoro?
Panettone and pandoro - those paper-wrapped baked goods, and a cross between a bread and a cake, are more than just Christmas treats. They have a rich history in their homeland of Italy.
While the origin of panettone is strongly contested, there are panettone recipes stretching back to 200AD. Over the years, it has resembled focaccia, contained pumpkin and made leaven with honey, but its birthplace is widely agreed as Milan. The version we know now is a 20th-century creation, its loftiness created by chef Angelo Motta.
The name panettone was copyrighted in July 2005 and applies to cured, confectionery soft dough, which is acidic. The basic ingredients are flour, sugar, egg yolk, butter, raisins, zest and candied citrus fruit.
Pandoro is slightly different. Like panettone, it is sweet and eaten around Christmas, but its main ingredients are flour, sugar, eggs and butter – there is no fruit added to the dough. With its origins in Verona, it is also dusted with vanilla sugar in tribute to the nearby Alps and their snowy peaks around Christmas time.
Why is panettone so expensive?
Panettone tends to be a little more expensive than most other baked goods, mainly for the amount of time that goes into making each one. A traditional panettone is usually a lengthy procedure, however, a cheap mass-produced alternative will take shortcuts in the baking process which will be reflected in its taste.
With its sourdough base, it normally takes around three days for the dough to prove, and after its spell in the oven, it is hung upside down to stretch which also gives it its familiar dome top. Each one is individually wrapped and packaged up in paper, and filled with an endless variety of flavours, with orange, pistachio, Amarena cherries and salted caramel being popular additions.
What makes a good panettone?
There are a couple of things to look out for when looking for a good panettone:
Origin: Make sure your panettone comes from Italy. This is the first indicator of quality. Cheap panettone can be made across Europe, and in the U.S., the majority are produced in Brazil. There have been many efforts made to obtain Protected Designation of Origin and Denominazione di Origine Controllata, like Parmesan and balsamic vinegar, but as yet, nothing has occurred.
Weight: Good quality panettone is usually heavier than its cheaper counterparts. This is down to it containing more ingredients and moisture within the dough. Inferior panettone can often be drier and crumblier.
Aroma: The smell from your panettone should hit you as soon as you cut into it. This will be down to using good quality ingredients like Madagascan vanilla and local citrus and fruit.
Taste: Good panettone will be rich and buttery, with a great golden colour to match.
Texture: When you buy a good panettone, you’ll notice that it tears in large moist strips – almost like a mozzarella. Cheap panettone will have a more bread-like structure.
Which panettone brand is the best?
Picking the best panettone isn’t easy, but we think our choice of premium brands showcases some of the best panettone around.
First, there is Flamigni – a very traditional panettone producer of excellent quality. One of our favourite products from them is Flamigni Classic Milano Panettone. This, as described in its name, is a classic – a really buttery sweet bread loaf packed with vanilla aroma.
And for something that not only tastes but looks like Christmas, we’d recommend picking up Flamigni Sugar Iced Dark Chocolate & Pear Panettone as the perfect festive gift. This is a huge cake studded with pieces of succulent candied pear and indulgent dark chocolate with a hazelnut and bitter almond-flavoured frosting, which adds a delicious frangipane-like crunchy topping.
Our second brand, Fiasconaro, are top panettone makers based in Sicily and are known for their modern design and focus on Sicilian fruits and ingredients.
The pistachios from around Mount Etna and the Bronte area are used to create their indulgent Pistachio Panettone with Pistachio Cream, which is topped with white chocolate and whole pistachios and presented in a gift box with a jar of luxurious pistachio cream.
Loison is famous for their bold and experimental flavours and their Panettone with Ciaculli Mandarin is no exception. With its citrus flavours, this panettone is as good lightly toasted for breakfast as it is with a glass of orange liqueur in the evening.
And don’t forget pandoro. Loison also make the incredible Loison Classic Handwrapped Pandoro which can be eaten straight away or grilled until the icing sugar starts to caramelise.
How to serve your panettone
When it comes to serving panettone, there is no right or wrong. It can be cut in slices from top to bottom, or placed on its side and cut into rounds. It can be toasted or warmed, it can also be served with ice cream or soaked in a liqueur.
Here are some more ideas for serving your panettone this Christmas:
Panettone French toast: mix eggs, milk, cinnamon and a little sugar, and place slices of panettone in the mixture to soak up. Fry the battered panettone slices on both sides and serve with fresh fruit, a drizzle of syrup and some chopped nuts.
Panettone bread and butter pudding: Layer up slices of panettone in a baking dish and pour over a custard made from milk, eggs and vanilla. Top with sliced almonds and bake.
Panettone sandwich: Bring the panettone out to make use of Christmas leftovers. Panettone makes a great sandwich with turkey, cheese and cranberry sauce.
Panettone with pistachio paste: Simply toast panettone slices and smear with luxurious Fiasconaro Pistachio Cream.
Often at Christmas time, you can also buy savoury panettone which is meant to be eaten alongside a good cheese board. But one of the main requirements of enjoying panettone at Christmas is to serve it sat around a table with your loved ones.
Make these sweet treats a staple of your Christmas this year by browsing our selection of panettone and pandoro from the best producers in Italy.