Panettone versus pandoro! Which will you choose?
Buon Natale! It’s that time of year when the season is celebrated with good cheer and lots of good food. In Italy, there are lots and lots of fabulous holidays treats…crunchy nutty brittles, tasty sugary cookies and sinfully chocolate yule logs. But it really isn’t Christmas in Italy, if a meal doesn’t end with a piece of Panettone or Pandora. For some families, it can be a real dilemma as to which delectable cake to serve and can often divide families into two distinctive camps. Usually a person who loves Pandoro, doesn’t like Panettone. They dislike the raisins and candied fruit are so plentiful in the dryer panettone. And if you are in the group that serves Panettone, you think that a Pandoro cake is too rich and buttery.
Indeed, Sophia and Lorenzo battle this out in the novel “Dreaming Sophia”!
“The evening before Christmas Eve, as Florence took on a magical fairyland quality when I least expected to see him [Lorenzo], I plowed straight into his arms. It happened in Via Sant’Antonino as I was coming out of a bakery near the Medici prince’s basilica. I had been perusing the delightful trays of almond cookies and tempting sheets of croccanti before purchasing the panettone, the Christmas cake I would take to the Poglianis for our holiday dinner. As we collided, we laughed at the sight of ourselves and wished each other “Buon Natale! Merry Christmas!”
Seeing the colorful, ornate box the baker had just wrapped up for me, complete with a big silver bow, he asked what was inside. When I told him to stop being so nosy, he only smiled and repeated his question. Giving in I said, “It’s a panettone of course. It wouldn’t be Christmas without one.”
When he heard that, he rolled his eyes and quickly proclaimed he much preferred a moist, star-shaped pandoro Christmas cake. He said eating a single slice of buttery pandora was a thousand times better than eating five dry panettone cakes filled with hard raisins any day of the week—Christmas or otherwise. We looked at one another and narrowed our eyes in a square off. We had just stepped into the middle of an age-old debate that often split Italian families: Panettone vs. Pandoro.”
Sophia prefers the sweeter Panettone, the cake that originated in Milano. The dough requires several hours to make because it must be cured in a way similar to sourdough, rising and falling several times before it is baked. It has a distinctive domed shape and is often compared to fruitcakes because it is filled with candied fruits. Often it is served plain or with a drizzle of sugary icing.
Lorenzo on the other hand, likes the richer Pandoro, the cake that was invented in Verona. Translated Pandora means golden bread and is bright yellow in color. Traditionally it is shaped like a star. Often times it is sliced horizontally and the slices are slightly rotated to form a tower of offset, star-shaped layers. The final touch is a healthy dousing of powdered sugar to complete the dessert.
Both cakes are delicious, but like Sophia, I too, prefer a dome-shaped Panettone. There are several legends associated with the how the first Panettone was invented. My favorite goes like this:
The legend of Ughetto’s Love that created the first Panettone
Once upon a time, during the middle ages, there was a young man, named Ughetto degli Atellani. He left his small village in Piemonte, where he worked as a falconer, to seek his fortune in Milano. Shortly after arriving in town, as he passed by a bakery, he noticed a beautiful young girl. Promptly he lost his heart and fell in love with her. After making inquiries around the neighborhood, he learned the girl’s name was Adalgisa and that her father was a stern task master and sold only the finest cakes and bread in his shop. The baker was even harder to please when it came to finding the right husband for his daughter. He had already turned away many hopeful suitors.
Undaunted by these accounts, the young man decided to apply for work as an apprentice in the baker’s fornaio—bakery. To win Adalgisa’s affections and the respect of her father, the night before Christmas he decided to invent a new cake by mixing flour, eggs, butter, sugar, raisins and candied citrus peels. He called his creation a Panettone. On Christmas day he presented his creation to the girl and her family. It was a delectable success that turned fortunes in his favor. The masquerading pastry chef made such a favorable impression with both Adalgisa and her father, the baker offered him his daughter’s hand in marriage AND a permanent position in his bakery. There was only one condition: the young man had to treat his daughter with love and affection for the rest of her life and make him a famous baker by sharing with him his recipe for the delicious Panettone cake.
Now, what cake will you serve at your holiday table? Well, that’s an easy thing to decide! Just as Sophia and Lorenzo decided, no need to battle it out. There is only one peaceful solution: you eat them both!
Take a look at this video I recently made in Italian and English about the Italian cake battle!