We all love a wonderful dessert. And when it comes to the Christmas season, or when wanting to bring a nice gift, there’s no western dessert like Panettone. Hailed for the decadence similar to a brilliant kueh lapis, Panettone is often the piece de resistance around the Christmas season.
At its best, panettone combines the moistness of a cake with the texture of a particularly delicate bread. The outside has a slight crust; the interior is melt-in-your-mouth soft. Pull a piece apart, and the strands come apart like candyfloss. Just when you think the party is over, the candied fruits take turns to give an extra pop in your mouth. I don’t know about you, but I’d most DEFINITELY be drooling by now. To create this masterpiece, it often takes a baker to care, nourish and work on a ‘proper’ panettone for at least 36 hours.
The Story of Panettone
They (the older ones at least) will all tell you one thing though – save a slice for 3 February. Even if they’ve given it up, they’ll be able to tell you the story why.
According to legend, San Biagio (St Blaise) saved a child who was choking on a fish bone by giving him a piece of bread. And so, along with his list of other talents (including protecting farmers, mattress makers and forests), he also is said to protect throats. Some people still pray to him when they feel a sore throat coming on. On the feast day held in his honour, 3 February, many people eat a slice of panettone that they saved from Christmas to eat now. The bread, long dried out (‘poss’ in Milanese dialect), often is toasted and eaten with butter.
There’s also a Romeo & Juliet story behind how Panettone was created too!
Ughetto, a wealthy hawk breeder, who fell in love with a baker’s daughter, Adalgisa. Due to the class differences between them, the love was forbidden by Ughetto’s family. So, like any lovers whose family disapproves do, they met in secret. But, the bakery came upon hard times and Adalgisa had to work more, meaning the love birds couldn’t see each other. Not to be discouraged, Ughetto disguised himself and took a job as the baker’s boy. And, in an effort to bolster the bakery’s sales, Ughetto though to improve the bread by adding butter to the dough, butter that he purchased by selling some of his hawks.
As in anything you add butter to, the bread was a hit. He continued making tweaks: adding a little sugar, a little eggs and candied citron, and the people started to rave about his bread. At Christmas time, he wanted to make it extra special and added some raisins. Of course, in the end the bakery began to thrive again and Ughetto and Adalgisa got married.
With such legendary stories about the panettone, we of course had to grab our serves’ worth before we can tell you about it. And I will tell you, we grabbed the classic and the Prosecco based ones from Pasticceria Fraccaro, who have been making panettone since 1932. The Fraccoaro products are still made using artisan methods in this small family business, with the same aromas and atmosphere of eighty years ago. Their prized ingredient is the sourdough starter, which is the same starter used from their inception. The classic version is made with butter, raisins and candied orange; the Prosecco, well, with Prosecco.
We can tell you we have the Panettone and tried to pair it with many things; a morning coffee, and afternoon Prosecco, together with a cheese platter (that didn’t work very well, it was like a confused explosion in the mouth). It was wonderful with a morning coffee, but it was so rich it was better as a dessert. The egg yolks and butter give it an almost cake like texture.
The trick to pairing with a Prosecco is to find one with a matching sweetness, so that it complements the Panettone style. For our pairing, we preferred an Extra Dry (slightly sweeter, yes we know the classification is a bit odd) for the classic, and a Brut (slightly dryer) for the Prosecco. A Prosecco with bright citrus notes is perfect for pairing with the citrus-scented classic Italian Panettone, while a slightly dryer Brut was nice to balance out the richness of the Prosecco Panettone (there was literally Prosecco jam in the bread)
The effervescence of the proseccos and their slightly dry characteristic cleanses the palate after each bite of the rich bread, while the citrus flavors of the bread and wine mingled to create a perfect, bright harmony. As if that’s not enough, the contrast between the rich smoothness of the bread and the crisp, tingling bubbles of the sparkling wine created a unique complementary dance, making for one perfect pairing all around.