17 January 2008
p is for panettone
Panettone is THE holiday cake in northern Italy. It's a soft and light egg bread studded with candied citron and raisins that originated in Milan, and Christmas is definitely not Christmas without a panettone in the house.
In December, Milan sidewalks are host to packs of pedestrians toting panettone boxes by their sturdy ribbon handles. The box itself is a tell-tale shape reminiscent of a large squared-off gumdrop. Supermarkets and high-end gastronomias alike feature floor-to-ceiling pyramids of ready-made panettone by any number of major brands. Trust me, you couldn't pass Christmas in Milan without a panettone if you tried.
And you shouldn't.
We placed our panettone order with our favorite baker, Robert, more than a week in advance. We learned our lesson last year when we landed one of Robert's excellent panettone by sheer luck - someone else had cancelled their order at the last minute. We considered it a Christmas miracle.
This year our one-kilo panettone was ready to come home with us on Christmas Eve and we could hardly wait to eat it. Panettone, especially those made by Robert, are amazingly light and soft. Sweet chunks of candied orange peel and raisin fleck the yellow bread. And thick slices of this tall bread have come to mean Christmas to us too.
Just the smell of a panettone is enough to raise spirits to an appropriately Christmas level - and the heady profumo of a good panettone, once floating in a room, cannot be rushed to leave. It just hangs there smelling so very, very wonderfully sweet.
We had panettone for Christmas breakfast with hot cocoa. Stefano made the hot cocoa using his secret weapon, the milk frother. A good milk frother can elevate even the most simple Swiss Miss into the stratosphere. Not to mention what a pair of fluffy marshmallows on top will do. A drink worthy of the historic panettone!
And what does one do with their panettone after Christmas?
Make french toast, of course.
There has never been a more delicate and delicious french toast, a more perfect bread to soak up egg and vanilla, cinnamon and milk. Hunks of panettone french toast make the day after Christmas almost as enjoyable as Christmas itself.
In northern Italy, panettone is Christmas and Christmas is panettone. And the day after Christmas... Well, that's just icing on the cake.
P is for panettone.