Not all Panettone are and taste the same. With the summer coming to an end and Christmas fast approaching, the first Panettones are starting to appear. Supermarkets have already set their Christmas aisles up with their own, and Google is full of online retailers selling them.
Panettone, the Italian Christmas cake that should be added to the Unesco Intangible heritage due to its worldwide appeal, it is now eaten all over the world, not just on Christmas day anymore and it has moved beyond what we now call “Tradizionale”, its original and nowadays, almost boring recipe, also known as Panettone Milanese, from Milan, where it was originally created the first time.
And whilst the Panettone shape has not changed, pastry chefs and chefs have taken the cake to an all new level. From the ingredients used to the baking process, there are plenty of options available for Panettone lovers, with prices starting at £3 and going all the way to £100 and above and due to their current status, it is not unusual to find artisan Panettone in special boxes, from fashion designer to hand painted ones costing several hundred pounds. Panettone has become much more than a cake, it is a symbol, it represents holiday, celebrations, families sitting together.
Panettone has moved away from the industrially made that we used to grow up with, and if the Panettone was invented in Milan, it is now made all over Italy, from Aosta Valley to Sicily, with every single “pasticceria”, pastry shop, making theirs using local ingredients so that there are thousands of Panettone versions being made and sold. And Panettone is not just a “pastry shop” cake, all biggest Italian chefs have made their version.
But what is the difference between an artisan and an industrial Panettone? To answer this question we first need to understand what a Panettone is. The Panettone is defined in the Italian law as a cake with the classic Panettone shape, muffin, made with the following ingredients: flour, sugar, fresh eggs (with at least 4% of yolk), butter (at least 16%), dried grapes and candied fruit (at least 20%), yeast and salt. This is the recipe for the traditional, Milanese Panettone, for all other styles or fillings, the other ingredients are added as long as the base remains the same. The most evident difference, they are listed on the ingredients’ list, between artisan and industrial Panettone is in the use of preservatives. Industrial Panettones tend to have them added to prolong their shelf life, making them last up to a year. Artisan Panettone don’t, they have a much shorter shelf life, depending on the style or filling of the Panettone, and it varies between one and a few months.
But the main difference, and the big price difference, is in the quality of the ingredients used, there are plenty of choices available. From very cheap, low quality, to high quality, expensive, options. Artisan pastry chefs always choose the highest quality ingredients, they never compromise on quality and they play with and improve the “original” recipe, changing the percentage of the different ingredients, they don’t just use the minimum as stated by law to be able to call the cake “Panettone”. Another difference, very important in shaping the Panettone is in the yeast used, artisan pastry chefs always use mother yeast instead of brewer’s yeast.
We do believe, and there are plenty of food critics that agree with us, that there is a substantial difference between an artisan and an industrial Panettone, from its scents to its softness, from its color to its texture, from the shape and the amount of holes inside. Industrial Panettones are often dry, with regular or no holes, low quality ingredients and little flavour. Industrial Panettones are ok, their price is very affordable, but try an artisan Panettone and you will never go back, we believe that it is better to have one artisan Panettone this Christmas than not 3 or 4 industrial ones.
And the Panettone has now become vegan friendly, the first vegan Panettones have been created. Vegan Panettones are still very rare and mainly an artisan affair, due to the risk of contamination for big, industrial producers. In the vegan Panettone, the butter is replaced with a vegetable alternative and by doing so, it is more difficult to produce a good quality Panettone, it requires more skills and work, butter is a very important ingredient in the Panettone’s recipe. Lastly, vegan Panettone cannot be legally called “Panettone” because they do not contain butter, so are often given other names.
To enjoy the panettone at its best, the serving temperature is very important, even more for an artisan panettone. If the panettone has been stored in a cold room, bring it in a warm room and leave it there for a day or so, once opened it will release all its aromas and will be softer and artisan panettone can be kept for several days wrapped in the plastic bag that it came with.
Here a few tips on how to recognise a good, properly made artisan panettone:
The crust should be one with the dough and the honeycomb of a "perfect" panettone must be uniform and well developed, without large air pockets, the more air inside, the more the panettone dries out. The number, size and density of the candied fruit is also a symptom of quality, the more the better. A good panettone smells fresh, like just made and it has to be light and if we cut a slice, it must 'pull free" without breaking. Finally, evaluate the experience as a whole. The perfect balance between what you see, smell, touch, and taste.
For the Panettone, like all other leavened products, the bigger the size the better the final product is. Lastly, the perfect accompaniment for the panettone are “passiti”
or the classic Moscato d'Asti
Check our range
of artisan and vegan Panettone or if you have tons of patience, why not try to make yours following our Panettone