Letters from Italy

Letter “P” :: Panettone or Pandoro?


In Italy, the holiday season brings – along with the huge amount of to-dos everybody knows – the Hamletic doubt: panettone or pandoro. Italians, from icy Alto Adige to warm Sicily, split into two parties: Panettone supporters and Pandoro fans.

The only thing both parties agree on is that both cakes are meant to be offered during Christmas time. No other time is allowed. Soon after January 6th they become outdated. Everything else is open to an endless declination of variants.

The name Panettone is the corruption of the phrase Pan de Toni (Toni’s bread). Toni was a scullion at Ludovico Maria Sforza’s palace. Legend says that on Christmas night the duke of Milan invited the most important patricians of the town. His cook had been given the task to create a new cake that was meant to leave his guests astonished. He actually made it, but he forgot it in the oven and the cake got burnt. The humble scullion suggested to make another cake with the things they had available in the pantry. The cake was a success and when the Duke asked for the name, the cook simply said: “è il pan de Toni” (it’s Toni’s bread). So the legend goes. Panettone, in its standard and traditional recipe, includes, besides flour, eggs and raisins, candied citron and lemon peels in the dough.

Pandoro (literally, “golden bread”) is typical of Verona. It features its unmistakable 8-pointed-star shape – while panettone has a round shape topped by a dome. It is simpler than panettone (no raisins, no candied fruits), just a generous dusting of powdered sugar (zucchero a velo) on top of it just before serving. Some say it is the new version of the XII century Verona cake “Nadalin”. Others say that the name refers to the habit of Venetian Republic well-off people of offering food covered with a golden foil, in order to show off wealth and power. A cake with a conic shape – pan de oro – is said to be offered at rich merchants’ table. These are just theories, but pandoro, actually, can boast a date of birth: October 14, 1884, when Domenico Melegatti, pastry chef in Verona, patented the first pandoro as we know it today.

This is what the tradition says: but today the manufacturers’ imagination have added so many variants that – sometimes – it is hardly impossible to recognize the original cake. Chocolate, egg cream, liquor, everything-you-can-think-of. Every year there is a new fad (I remember with horror the 90’s fashion of stuffing  panettone with heavy and questionable liquor-scented creams or custards…)

Supporters of each cake are equally divided, each of them brings forth their reasons to catch new adepts to their cause. Appetibilis suggestion is simple: try both of them (just a slice, they are calorie bombs) and have a glass of “bollicine” with them. It is mandatory 😉

And let’s get the party started!

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