You are probably aware that Italians can be, sometimes, quite parochial. It should not be of surprise: prior to the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 (but Rome was annexed only in 1870), the land of Italy basically consisted of a network of duchies, reigns and kingdoms. And even much before, in the Middle Ages, a relative small Italian territory witnessed the coexistence of manifold powerful city-states: Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Mantua, Milan, Rome and equally important others.
The eternal competition among Italian municipalities has not spared Christmas cakes. Indeed, when festivities are approaching, the battle starts all over again. This time of the year, the main contenders are Pandoro, originally from Verona, and Panettone, born in Milan, but knowing many local adaptations.
Pandoro is a soft, brioche-like tall cake covered with icy sugar. It holds an 8-point star shape and the main ingredients are flour, butter and eggs. His roots are in Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, and it is likely to be a descendant of Nadalin, a local cake. However, Pandoro holds an official birthdate, as it was patented by the industrial Domenico Melegatti on 14 October 1894 (only Italians can make it to patent cakes...).
Pandoro literally means “Golden bread”, this name recalling the color of its soft inner part, and it can perfectly fit with hot chocolate on top. For grown-ups, this cake should be paired with a glass of Brachetto, a sweet and sparkling red #Wine with low alcohol content produced in the lower part of Piedmont. We cannot help to suggest the Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG Il Pineto by Marenco (5.5% alcohol), available for online shopping on #Libiamo. It is good also to prepare Christmas cocktails.
The other contender, Panettone, consists of sweet bread filled with candied citron, lemon zest and raisins. It is slightly shorter, thicker and more baked than Pandoro.
Panettone finds its roots in Milan but the development of the recipe is quite controversial. According to one version, it originated by accident on an unspecified Christmas evening in the 1500s, when the cook of the Sforzas, the Milanese dynasty, clumsily burnt the Christmas cake: he was rescued by Toni, a serf, who offered his own Christmas bread for the evening, to the delight and gastronomic satisfaction of the Sforzas. Out of gratitude, the family named the recipe “Pan de Toni” (literally, Toni’s bread), then slightly rephrased in Panettone over the years.
According to another version, a Milanese nun, Ughetta, created the recipe for the other nuns of the convent by using the basic and humble ingredients available in their kitchen. There is definitely a mystery behind the birth of this cake.
There are many cakes bearing some similarities with Panettone: for instance, the Pandolce from Genoa (even thicker, but shorter) and the Bisciola from Valtellina, in the north of Lombardy. We will not try to assess whether they pre-date (or outrank) Panettone or not, most of all to avoid local reprisals!
Being quite rich and demanding, Panettone calls for a glass of a powerful sweet wine, able to match this cake properly. For instance, Malvasia Passita L'Ora Felice Colli Piacentini DOC by La Tosa, also available online on Libiamo, a sweet white wine with scents of ripe and yellow dry fruit recalling the flavor of Panettone.
Besides a large industrial production, however, many pastry shops still produce their own home-made versions. It is then hard to say which Christmas cake is more popular in Italy. We can only report that 50% of the team at Libiamo prefers Panettone, while the other 50% leans towards Pandoro; thus, it is, definitely a draw...
In the end, what matters the most is that people gather around the Christmas table and merrily celebrate together, possibly with tasty cakes and flavored wines!