Not all Panettone taste the same. Fact.
With the summer coming to an end and Christmas fast approaching, the first Panettones are starting to be shipped from Italy. Yes, panettone and pandoro, are still an Italian affair. Supermarkets have already set their Christmas aisles up with their own range, and the internet is full of online retailers selling them.
Panettone, the Italian Christmas cake that should be added to the Unesco Intangible heritage list due to its worldwide appeal, is now eaten all over the world and not just on Christmas day and thanks to its worldwide appeal, it has moved beyond what we now call “Tradizionale”, also known as Panettone Milanese, its birthplace.
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 beyond and due to their current status, it is not unusual to find artisan Panettone in special boxes, from fashion designer to hand painted, costing several hundred pounds. Panettone has become much more than a cake, it is a symbol, it represents holiday, Italy, celebrations, families sitting together and Christmas.
Panettone has moved away from the industrially made Christmas cake that we used to eat when growing up, and if the Panettone was invented in Milan, it is now made all over Italy, from Aosta Valley to Sicily. Every “pasticceria”, pastry shop, makes them, often featuring local ingredients in the recipe, with the results that there are thousands of Panettone’s versions available. And Panettone is not just a “pastry shop” cake, all biggest chefs, Italian e non, year after year, Christmas after Christmas create their own.
But what is the difference between an artisan and an industrial Panettone? To answer the question we first need to be aware of what a Panettone is. The Panettone is defined in the Italian law, yes it has been written in the 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, the Milanese, Panettone; for all other styles or fillings, the additional ingredients must be added to flour, sugar, fresh eggs and butter keeping the same minimum percentages.
One of the main, and easier to spot, difference between artisan and industrial panettone is listed on the ingredients’ list: preservatives. Industrial Panettones tend to have preservatives added to their recipe to prolong their shelf life, making them last up to a year. Artisan Panettone don’t, and as a result, have a shorter shelf life, depending on the style and filling of the Panettone, and it varies between one and a few months.
But the main difference, and the cause of such a large price difference, is in the quantity and quality of the main ingredients. From flour to butter, there are plenty of choices, from very cheap, low quality, to high quality, costly. Artisan pastry chefs always choose the highest quality ingredients, they never compromise on quality, and “improve” the recipe increasing the percentage of the different ingredients, they don’t just use the minimum as prescribed by the law to be able to call the cake “Panettone”. Another difference, very important , is the yeast used: artisan pastry chefs always use mother yeast instead of brewer’s yeast, a slower process resulting in a better cake.
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. Industrial Panettones are often dry, with regular or no holes, low quality ingredients and little flavour. Industrial Panettones are ok, their price is affordable, but try an artisan Panettone and you will go back to an industrial one, we believe that it is better to have one artisan Panettone than not 3 or 4 industrial ones.
And the Panettone has now become vegan friendly, the first vegan Panettone have been created. Vegan Panettone 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 but by doing so, to produce a good, soft, vegan Panettone requires skills and work, butter is a very important ingredient in the Panettone’s recipe because it gives the colour and the softness to the cake. Lastly, because they do not contain butter, vegan Panettone cannot be called “Panettone”, so they are often given other names but are just vegan panettone.
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 they 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, light and if we cut a slice, it must 'pull free" without breaking. Finally, consider the whole experience, the 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. The perfect accompaniment for the panettone are “passiti”
or the classic Moscato d'Asti
Check our range
of artisan Panettone or if you have tons of patience, why not try to make yours following our recipe