Although it is now the symbol of Christmas lunch and dinners all over Italy, Panettone is the ultimate Milanese Christmas dessert. Its origin is the subject of many legends, but what is certain is that it dates back to the XV century. It is shaped like a cylinder with a rounded top, it can be high (30cm) or low (15cm), and in its original recipe the dough contains eggs, butter, raisins and candied oranges. These days you can find it without candied fruit or raisins, or with chocolate chips and custard cream. But, as any true panettone lover would say, those may taste good…but they are not the real thing!
Italians normally have it at the end of a special meal (lunch or dinner) together with coffee or a sweet wine. When one feels really indulgent you can have some fresh mascarpone cream on the side.
Panettone should not be heated before serving, but does, especially in the winter, benefit from a few minutes in a warm place, like in front of an open oven or on top of a radiator. Left-over panettone makes for a very delicious breakfast. You can find loads of industrially produced ones, and some of them are quite good but nothing beats the panettone which comes from one of the traditional patisseries in Milan.
My all-time favourite is from Marchesi, a patisserie that has been around since 1824 and whose atmosphere still has the power to bring you back in time, to the beginning of the last century. Right before Christmas, as soon as you enter their shop, you will immediately notice the table with the big pile of panettoni wrapped in white with a red ribbon. If you stay in the shop for a few minutes you’ll see this pile disappear quickly, as many people enter the shop just once a year and for the sole purpose of buying their lovely 1kg panettone.
Luckily now panettone is produced almost all year round, with the exception of the very warm months of July and August. So any time you are in town you can pick one up to take home!