Dense and fragrant festive fruit bread, handmade in Turin
Like many Christmas traditions that endure despite us not really knowing where they originate, the story of how panettone came to be an Italian festive staple is shrouded in folklore and legend. One such story involves a young servant named Toni, who saved the day at court when he produced a sweetened bread to replace the chef’s burnt dessert—hence ‘pan di Toni’. Another involves a falconer, a bakery, and a Romeo-and-Juliet-esque love story. Most likely it’s something much duller, to do with wheat and taxes.
Whichever way you slice it, the Italians have been eating a type of large, leavened fruit bread at Christmas since at least the 17th century. Much like everything at Christmas, it eventually evolved into a pumped-up version, enriched with egg yolks, butter, sugar, and fruit. It hails from Milan originally, but the panettone found at The Parma Ham and Mozzarella Stand is from Turin. “We are selling panettone de Turino, made by Marco Avidano,” says owner Philip Crouch. “He is a small confectioner craftsman, making fewer than 30 panettoni every day. His panettoni are made with Italian wheat flour and we have two varieties: one made with plain flour, one with wholemeal flour and Piedmontese apricots.”
The raisins and candied fruit within both are processed from fresh fruit rather than frozen, as is common with more commercial producers, and the nuts are sourced exclusively from Italian PDO producers. The entire production is carried out by hand, traditionally a lengthy process involving several days’ proving, to allow for deep flavours to develop. “Marco doesn’t use any additives or preservatives, so the shelf life is only one month,” advises Philip, “most other panettoni last around six months.”
Masses of butter
Dense and fragrant, panettone is as much symbiotic of this time of year for its requisite abundance of fruit, spices, and masses of butter as it is our propensity for sweet indulgence at any time of day. Champagne before five? At Christmas—and throughout December, if we’re honest—you bet. Chocolate for breakfast? Practically obligatory. Where at more frugal times of year you might save a small slice for the afternoon slump, panettone can easily pass for breakfast fodder with a slather of butter and coffee or the same in the afternoon with a cuppa as much it can an after-dinner treat. Particularly if you take Philip’s advice: “We would suggest simplicity is the key when eating this panettone—a glass of moscato naturale from Piedmont, or a dollop of our excellent mascarpone from Caseificio Carena would do the job nicely.”