November carries the reputation of frosty stars to each morning, it is quite dark when we leave home, and often the same prospect is repeated on our return. But freezing thoughts are soon forgotten once we are welcomed with the warm heated house as we pass through the front door. At the end of the month the first Advent draws the family together. Almost eleven months have passed with probably two few table occasions and now with the ripened fruits add the colorful decoration that Advent demands, with tangerines, clementines, pineapples, pomegranates. The game season continues, venison and duck etc. both carrying a very seasonal feel, are plentiful.
In Germany already in November the “Platzchen” competition begins! Which means families exchange different kind of home made biscuits. Some recipes can be ancient such as the ginger bread which has existed in some form since sugars and spices were brought back to Europe, from soldiers in the Crusades. (However, it wasn’t until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert included it with a variety of other German Christmas traditions that the gingerbread cookies became primarily associated with Advent and Christmas). />
In Italy the Panettone lures us since it is being the major afternoon ingredient of our 5 o’clock coffee and cake tradition. That was what I did. I have found a special panettone & profiterol combo! And we enjoyed it’s divine flavor!
But what is Panettone?
It is a type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan/North of Italy. It is usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year, and is one of the symbols of the city of Milan. However in recent years it has become a popular addition to the Christmas table in many other countries as well. Each country names the special-fruit bread differently. In some countries it is a tradition to eat it on 7 January each year.
The Panettone has a cupola shape, which extends from a cylindrical base and is usually about 12–15 cm high for a panettone weighing 1 kg. Other bases may be used, such as an octagon, or a frustum with a star section shape more common to Pandoro. It is made during a long process that involves curing the dough, which is acidic, similar to sourdough. The proofing process alone takes several days, giving the cake its distinctive fluffy characteristics. It contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked. Many other variations are available such as plain or with chocolate. It is served in slices, vertically cut, accompanied with sweet hot beverages or a sweet wine, such as Asti or Moscato d’Asti. In some regions of Italy, it is served with “crema di mascarpone”, a cream made from mascarpone, eggs, sometimes dried or candied fruits, and typically a sweet liqueur such as amaretto; if mascarpone cheese is unavailable, Zabaione is sometimes used as a substitute
In the early 20th century, two enterprising Milanese bakers began to produce panettone in large quantities in the rest of Italy. In 1919, Angelo Motta started producing his eponymous brand of cakes. It was also Motta who revolutionized the traditional panettone by giving it its tall domed shape by making the dough rise three times, for almost 20 hours, before cooking, giving it its now-familiar light texture. The recipe was adapted shortly after by another baker, Gioacchino Alemagna, around 1925, who also gave his name to a popular brand that still exists today. The stiff competition between the two that then ensued led to industrial production of the cake. Nestlé took over the brands together in the late 1990s, but Bauli, an Italian bakery company based in Verona, has acquired Motta and Alemagna from Nestlé.
As a result of this fierce competition, by the end of World War II Panettone was cheap enough(?) for anyone and soon became the country’s leading Christmas sweet. Lombard immigrants to Argentina and Brazil also brought their love of panettone, and panettone is enjoyed for Christmas with hot cocoa or liquor during the holiday season, which became a mainstream tradition in those countries. In some places, it replaces the King cake.
Antonio D’Onofrio, son of immigrants hailing from Caserta, Italy, spawned his own brand using a modified form of the Alemagna formula (e.g., candied papaya is used instead of candied citron and lemon, as these fruits are not available in Peru), which he licensed along with the packaging style. This brand is now also owned by Nestlé and exported throughout Latin America. In recent years, Brazilian Panettone have increased in quality and in popularity due to their low cost and abundance.
Italian food manufacturing companies and bakeries produce 117 million panettone and pandoro cakes every Christmas — worth 579 million euros. There is an event in Milan since 2013 that awards the Best Traditional Panettone of Italy. In 2016 the prize was awarded to Giuseppe Zippo, from Salento. Some non-Italians may use it as an alternative to the somewhat stodgier Christmas cake.