Entertaining over the holidays? Nothing could be easier than a buffet focused on Italian charcuterie and cheese. And for dessert? Think “panettone” and “pandoro,” the yeast-raised breads and cakes traditionally served during the holidays. They’re delicious, and you don’t need a recipe. Like the Italians, you can purchase them beautifully wrapped and ready-to-eat.
In “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” (Alfred A. Knopf, $37.50), authors Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali describe “panettone” as a “sweet yeast bread studded with candied fruit.” The genre is thought to have originated in Milan sometime during the 17th century. It’s roots, however, go back to the Middle Ages, a time when bakers were allowed to bake richer than usual breads only for the Christmas holiday.
According to legend, panettone is named for a lowly scullery boy named Toni who saved the day when the head cook burned the Duke’s Christmas dessert. Some versions claim Toni gave the cook the bread he’d made for his own family. Others say he made the replacement dessert using whatever was available in the kitchen, including the remnants of the ill-fated dessert. Whatever the truth may be, the panettone is a long-running hit.
While both panettone and pandoro are made with yeast, panettone is more like a bread than a cake, and pandoro is more like a cake than a bread. Their iconic cylindrical shape is a 20th-century innovation, and “low” versions of both are widely available.
Pandoro is native to Verona, which is also the town most closely associated with it. “Pan d’oro” means “golden bread,” a reference to the cake’s rich texture and signature golden color, as well as the butter and egg yolks used to make it. Pandoro is served topped with a thick dusting of confectioner’s sugar and almost never contains nuts or dried fruit.
Eataly Chicago (43 E. Ohio St. 312.521.8700) carries several kinds of pandoro and an even bigger selection of of panettones, both in the store and online. Consider, for example, a panettone made with candied chestnuts, dried apricots, pear and chocolate, cherries, or raisins and dried orange peel, to name just a few. Mariano’s and Jewel/Osco carry a traditional panettone and two kinds of pandoro, all made by Bauli.
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