This celebration bread is the king of Italian bakes, and is a wonderful centrepiece in the middle of the table. The perfect panettone is light as air, golden in colour and packed with heady citrus flavour.
Here’s our guide to everything you need to know about panettone, including how to eat it, how it’s made and – if you're in a rush – scroll straight down to the bottom for which panettone to buy.
We take panettone very seriously at Sous Chef and we believe we hold the best selection of brands in the UK, and perhaps even in Europe.
Please note that panettone is a seasonal product. Colomba - 'the Easter pannetone' - is similarly delicious. You can browse them here.
What is panettone?
- Panettone has a long Italian history and there are panettone recipes dating back to 200AD. Its birthplace is widely agreed as Milan. Over the years, the panettone has resembled focaccia, contained pumpkin, and made leaven with honey. 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 refers to a cake made with a slow-risen sourdough yeast (usually over several days), rich in butter. The usual ingredients are flour, sugar, egg yolk, butter, raisins, zest and candied citrus fruit.
What is pandoro?
Pandoro is slightly different, and it comes from Verona.
Like panettone, it is sweet and eaten around Christmas, but its main ingredients are just flour, sugar, eggs and butter – there is no fruit added to the dough. The texture is much more cake-like with a finer crumb. It is also dusted with vanilla sugar in tribute to the snowy Alps and their snowy peaks around Christmas time.
How do you eat panettone?
Traditionally, Italians eat a slice of panettone at breakfast. Slice yourself a pillowy piece of panettone and enjoy with a strong espresso first thing, for the true Italian experience.
Here are some other ways to serve panettone:
- Our favourite is a simple slice on a plate with double cream to serve.
- Toast a slice of panettone and serve it with cheese at the end of a meal. The buttery sweetness is fantastic with tangy, crumbly cheese like a premium mature Cheddar.
- Warm your panettone in the oven, then cut into individual portions and serve with a dash of double cream and a dollop of stewed fruit for a real winter warmer.
- Spread a rich and smooth nut butter over your panettone for a very special afternoon treat. Coffee cream and pistachio cream from Fiasconaro are just the thing.
- Dip hunks of warm panettone into a bowl of hot chocolate for a pre-bed snack.
- Enjoy a glass of marsala wine with your panettone at the end of dinner.
Is panettone a bread or cake?
Panettone is a leavened bread, but the way we eat it is more like a cake. The sourdough base is incredibly rich, fortified with eggs, sugar, butter and dried fruit. It can also be flavoured with chocolate drops, while some even have a whole layer of melted chocolate over the top.
How is panettone made?
It’s not easy to make a panettone, it requires skill and time to get the perfect results. Essentially, the recipe all hinges on the yeast. Panettone is made with a mother yeast, like a sourdough bread. Many panettone companies have carefully tended their ‘mother’ yeast for decades.
The Italian bakers at Flagmini explain: “The essential ingredient which gives the Flamigni panettone dough its distinct flavour is the mother yeast. ‘Born’ in the 1930s, our mother yeast is the one and only leavening agent used in the manufacturing process. It gives each panettone its freshness, its unique aroma and flavour.”
And the panettone team at Muzzi agree: “Our mother yeast is considered one of our company’s treasures: its distinctive features characterize our product, giving it a unique softnesss and aroma.”
How to make panettone at home
- To make panettone, combine sourdough starter with yeast, milk and sugar; then add butter and eggs to create the enriched base.
- Combine this wet mix with flour to make a kneadable dough. Leave for the first prove – crucial for developing those rich and complex flavours.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it back and incorporate soaked dried fruit or chocolate chips. Shape and leave to prove for a second time – which will now dictate the shape and texture of your dough.
- Once your panettone has risen and looks suitably majestic, put it in the oven
- Finally, while your panettone cools you should hang it upside down to preserve that perfect rise you’ve achieved, and prevent any sagging!
How long will panettone keep?
Panettone keeps far longer than other breads or cakes. For a classic panettone the shelf life might well be 4-6 months. However, panettone with flavoured creams are usually shorter, perhaps 2-3 months. Just check the best before date on the pack.
And if you forget to put your panettone back in its plastic bag between cutting a portions, it will start to harden. However there are lots of brilliant ways to use up stale panettone…
How to use stale panettone
- One of the best recipes for panettone that’s past its best is in bread and butter pudding. Layer up big slices of the bread, cover in custard and bake for a fruity, rich gorgeous pud.
- Panettone croutons add texture and flavour to winter salads – of your bread has gone stale, simply lightly gril and scatter over your salad leaves with fresh figs, blue cheese and a glug of good dressing.
- Try layering up your panettone in a tiramisu or trifle. The bread is particularly tasty soaked in brandy, masala or other sweet wines.
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 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 strips – almost like a mozzarella. Cheap panettone will have a more bread-like structure.
Which panettone should you buy?
We’re really proud of our collection of panettone at Sous Chef. We carefully select each product, and are looking for the best quality ingredients and authentic baking methods.
Take a look at our top selection below, or browse the full collection at our page of panettone and pandoro breads.
Which panettone brand?
At Sous Chef we only have top quality panettone, and so really the first decision is the design aesthetic you prefer. If you're looking for something classic, you'll prefer designs from Flamigni and Loison (Loison they have a number of ranges, but we only stock their 'Top Line' with the highest quality ingredients). And if you're looking for something brighter, colourful and more contemporary you'd choose Muzzi and Fiasconaro.
After that, of course it's the flavours you'll need to decide between. Traditionally panettones are studded with raisins and candied fruit, which is the classic choice. However, there are now amazing flavours to suit everybody - even dried fruit haters! Choose from marrons glacés, fruit and chocolate, pistachio and even salted caramel.
Why is panettone expensive?
Panettone tends to be a little more expensive than most other baked goods, mainly due to 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 artisan panettone is individually hand-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. They make fabulous gifts.
After a stage as a chef at a London Michelin-starred restaurant Nicola became obsessed with seeking the best flavours from around the world. She started Sous Chef in 2012, and is always sharing her knowledge of ingredients and writing recipes to showcase those products. Learning from the products, Sous Chef's suppliers and her travels, Nicola has written the majority of the recipes on the Sous Chef website, all of which are big on flavour.