Italian Christmas Sweets

For those of you who are spending their first Christmas season in Milan, the traditional Milanese Christmas desserts of panettone or pandoro are a must to be tried out.

Panettone is a spongy fruitcake usually filled with butter, eggs, raisins, candied orange bits and orange and lemon zest and can be purchased in any supermarket or pasticceria in the city during the holiday season. Panettone, meaning “big bread,” got its origins here in Milano and has been around since Roman times. There are several industrial brands, such as Alemagna, Bauli, Motta and Tre Marie, which are cheaper than their handmade counterparts and may come in variations to the traditional panettone.

There are several legends behind the creation of the panettone, one of the more popular ones concerns a young Milanese nobleman, a member of the Atellini family, who fell in love with the daughter of a baker named Toni. To impress the girls father, the young man disguised himself as a baker and invented a sweet, bread of an unusual size with a top shaped like a church dome. This new, fruitcake-like bread enjoyed enormous success, with people coming to the bakery from all over Italy to purchase the magnificent Pan de Toni (Panettone).

Pandoro is a specialty from Verona and is similar to panettone, but without the fruit bits and is generally topped with icing sugar and vanilla powder. The recipe follows closely a production formula in the Venetian tradition. Tall, distinctive and shaped like a Christmas tree, it is topped with powdered sugar reminiscent of snow, or a twinkling star. And indeed, if cut horizontally, each slice is a star.

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