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The Italian Christmas cakes: panettone and pandoro

The sweetest Italian Christmas traditions

Any Italian festivity or event cannot be called a celebration without beautiful, fragrant food and sweet treats. Christmas would not be Christmas without plentiful panettone and pandoro, the Italian Christmas cakes, appearing on Italian tables.



Panettone and pandoro are the most popular Christmas cakes eaten during the Christmas period in Italy. Even one of my fondest memories from my childhood is related to a special panettone. My mother usually planned a panettone as desert to end our Christmas dinner. However, that year, my dad surprised us with what appeared to be, to the eyes of us children, a spectacular version of it. This particular version of panettone was so successful with us that it became one of our family traditions. You can read this story in Italian HERE.

How to serve pandoro and panettone

In Italy, pandoro and panettone start appearing in shops at the beginning of December and are eaten throughout the Christmas period. They are given as a gift and their beautiful boxes and tin containers are used as decorations. Often anyone visiting friends and family will certainly bring one with them.

Both cakes can be eaten as they are or accompanied by moscato or marsala wine at the end of a meal. They are also eaten as an afternoon treat with tea. You might be surprised to hear that it is a very popular breakfast item, albeit a luxurious one.

Fresh, good quality panettone and pandoro are never dry, they have a delicious moist interior, perfumed with vanilla and in the case of panettone aromatic fruits.

Both cakes are usually eaten at room temperature. They are served as they are or accompanied by creamy sauces, mixed with coffee, or brandy or oranges and so on. They can be served stuffed with ice-cream or mascarpone cream, etc, and they can also be covered with those sauces or chocolate.

Here are some recipes for you in Italian: click here.

Pandoro is usually eaten with a dusting of vanilla-infused icing sugar. Hence, when served it looks like one of our snow-covered mountains.

Picture by Pexels

Where does pandoro come from?

Both panettone and pandoro originate from the North of Italy, pandoro is from Verona and panettone from Milan, and both have ancient traditions.

Pandoro is the younger brother of panettone. Its origins are from Verona in the 1800. It is the evolution of a simpler cake, called Nadalin, a star-shaped cake dating back to the medieval age. This predecessor of pandoro is still a delicacy produced today in Verona.

Pandoro, as we know it today, was created by a baker called Melegatti at the end of 1800. His version is much lighter, taller and with a more defined shape than its predecessor. Melagatti’s bake was so successful that it developed into a prosperous business. Melegatti has become a famous Italian brand, still producing this cake today. You can read the history of this cake in Italian on their website: click here if you wish.

What is the meaning of the word Pandoro?

The name pandoro means golden bread, because of the golden colour of its interior. The colour is due to the amount of egg used in the dough.

Picture by Freepik

Where does panettone come from?

Panettone has been eaten in Italy from 1500 or even earlier. Its origins are from the city of Milan during the reign of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan (Ludovico il Moro, “The Moor”).

The legend says that once there was a clever boy called Toni employed in the kitchen of the noble Sforza family to wash the dishes. Bored of the menial job, he took a break to create a cake for his fellow kitchen workers. The legend says that the dessert destined for the Duke was burned and Toni’s bread was served instead. The cake had such success that it became the Christmas cake eaten by millions of people each year.

What is the meaning of the word Panettone?

The name panettone comes from the name of its creator Toni. It is literally the bread of Toni (il pan di Toni).

My favorite

My favorite Christmas cake is panettone. This is an apparently simple cake but the magic of it is in the aroma and taste. The best panettone – in my opinion – is the simplest version, with just enough ingredients to be counted on the fingers of your hands.

I don’t know anyone who bakes their own panettone, this is because this bake is laborious, needs to be done in stages and takes a serious amount of time. And because, of course, it is easy to find some of excellent quality in the shops.

When you open a good quality panettone, especially when opening its bag, you should find yourself plunged immediately into the aroma of a Christmassy patisserie. The interior is soft and moist and the scent glorious.



Even if I love the simplest version of panettone, one of my most precious childhood memories related to Christmas was about a panettone gelato, a panettone filled with ice-cream. Find this blog HERE.

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