Tall, golden, enriched brioche-like bread that can be plain or with dried fruits and candied citrus peel, panettone has become a Christmas staple throughout much of the world. Panettone and variations are also traditionally enjoyed at New Year and on Twelth Night.
Native to Milan in Italy, panettone can also be enhanced with tubes of orange or lemon or chocolate sauces, with chocolate nibs – and with other less common additions. There are also much smaller versions, which fans will describe as ‘single portions’ although this was never the intention.
Although said now to outsell traditional Christmas puddings and cakes in the UK, this is unlikely to be as a substitute for these staples but as a welcome, lighter addition to festive feasting and entertaining.
Widely available in the months before Christmas.
Choose the best
When sliced and eaten very fresh, the differences between panettone can be minimal but richer versions, made with a greater proportion of butter and eggs, flavoured with real vanilla rather than with vanillin, will be smoother and more gratifying to eat. Check the label. Eat around and make a note of what was best for next year. The most expensive is not necessarily the best; beware of paying more for packaging than for content.
A very long life if unopened, well into the New Year.
Once opened, the high yeast content will mean a panettone might stale quickly. Keep cut surfaces tightly covered with cling film.
Sliced vertically, panettone can be enjoyed just as it is but many people find it a bit dry. It’s common to serve it with a sweet wine, still or sparkling, and also with an accompaniment of something rich and creamy, perhaps based on mascarpone (with egg yolks, as used in tiramisu) plus sweet wine, dried or candied fruits. Ice cream, jelly, custard, hot or cold sauces and some special fruit make panettone into a delicious pudding, where you might also have cubed it first.
Best to slice panettone as needed, as it will quickly dry out. Thus do not pre-slice for a buffet but allow guests to serve themselves. Otherwise, slice and serve with a bowl of something creamy, as above, or spread lightly with cream cheese, mascarpone, flavoured butter or with a fruit curd; passionfruit curd ticks all the boxes.
Plain panettone is enhanced by very light toasting, best under a grill because it colours quickly. Gorgeous breakfast fodder.
Cut into cubes and treated with a favourite liqueur or cognac, panettone makes a delicious layer in trifle-style puddings. Best of all is to be certain you have enough leftovers to make a panettone bread and butter pudding. You might buy an extra just for this pleasure. Adding passionfruit curd, of course.