Monday, December 3, 2007

An Italian Christmas: panettone, pandoro, panforte

Christmas is fast approaching, and despite my curmudgeonhood, I must admit I like it. While you may not want to adopt a wholly Italian tradition for the holidays, you can add just a touch of the bel paese with these traditional sweets.

The best-known: panettone (pah-net-TONE-eh). This is a blog, and thus somewhat personal, so I'll let you in on a family story. My own mamma, who was a war bride after WWII, in her girlhood lived in Milan, where the famous Motta industrial bakery has its origins. She told me that she and her younger sister Maria worked there as teens during the famished war years. Not a bad gig. Angelina (mom) and little sister Maria, in their wartime hunger, would secretly tear off large hunks of panettone from the assembly line and stuff it into their mouths. Doesn't this remind you of an I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel stuff themselves with chocolate?

Panettone is a rather plain cake with candied fruits. But my favorite is from the Veneto region: Pandoro (literally, golden cake, in the photo). The best-known industrial producer is Bauli.

Finally, we have panforte and pan pepato. For much of the English-speaking world, this will be reminiscent of (egads!) fruitcake. It is indeed fruit- and nut-studded and seemingly eternal. Also, hard. But it is indeed edible, and may grow on you. Very filling: a little goes a long way. Perhaps an acquired taste. You may want to try it this year for next Christmas.

But a Pandoro is sure to please.