The origins of Italy's panettone and pandoro
If there’s one type of food Italians associate with Christmas, it’s a large sweet Christmas loaf. There are two versions of these Christmas breads, both from different places in Italy: panettone and pandoro.
panettone can be traced back to Roman times, but the traditional Italian Christmas bread as we know it today was born in Milan in the early 1900s. The name of this dome-shaped delight comes from the word panetto, meaning ‘small loaf’. It is traditionally stuffed with candied fruits. Today, however, panettone comes with a whole range of fillings, from pistachio cream to salted caramel.
Pandoro, on the other hand, comes from Verona, where people have been eating similar types of festive bread for centuries. The earliest known variant is the nadalin, a Christmas bread that's been around as early as the thirteenth century. The nadalin gradually evolved into a golden, starshaped bread, which we now all know as pandoro (literally meaning 'golden bread'). In contrast to panettone, pandoro is baked plain without any fillings. Before being devoured at the Christmas breakfast table it's dusted with a layer of powdered vanilla sugar.
The artisan makers of panettone and pandoro
Although both panettone and pandoro are nowadays produced on an industrial scale, there are still a number of smaller producers that make it in artisan form with a focus on quality over quantity. Among these are brands such as Augusta and Baj. The latter happens to be one of the oldest panettone makers in Italy. Records show that this Milanese family business has been making panettone as far back as 1768. For many decades the panettone from Baj was considered to be the finest in all of Milan, making its store near Piazza del Duomo a destination in its own right (although there was another reason why Confetteria Baj became a major draw, which you can read about here).
Fast-forward to the 21st century and panettone and pandoro continue to be real crowd-pleasers at the Christmas table. If anything, they have only gained popularity over the past decades. And so, no Italian Christmas is complete without a big giant panettone or pandoro. We, for one, can't wait to dive in again.