Italians love their dolce.
Even in wintertime, you can be sure to see Italians eat gelato and so it comes a no surprise, that they have no less than 6 Christmas cakes to sweeten the chilly days of Christmas. But choosing which cake it should be, can even ruin the Christmas spirit in Italian families.
Common for them all is, that are called something with bread – pane – and so you have:
This is the original and probably most ancient recipe of a Christmas cake: a sweet cake made with yeast and filled with whatever dry fruit and nuts one has in their cupboards. “Pane dolce” means “sweet bread” and it’s a classic, Italian cake, not only for Christmas. According to Christmas tradition however, a part of the pandolce should be set aside for the poor, while another should be kept for the feast.
Originally from Verona, this sweet, star-shaped yeast bread is sprinkled with vanilla-scented icing sugar as to resemble the snow-covered alps. The golden (pan d’oro) sponge cake is the most basic of the Christmas cakes. Perfect for those who aren’t fans of dried fruits or raisins in their bakery.
This Milanese, dome-shaped Christmas cake is often sold together with a bottle of bubbly Asti. It can reach huge dimensions and often weigh 1 Kg since the sour bread is cured for several days. It has dried raisins and candied fruits.
The legend says, that the little kitchen boy Toni had made a cake for himself that ended up getting served for the Duke of Milan. When asked what the cake was called, the cook replied “L’è ‘l pan de Toni”, meaning “the bread of Toni”. The name since evolved to Panettone. And why spoil a good story with facts.
This dense, chewy fruitcake is the pride of Siena traditional confectionary and is flavored with honey, cloves, coriander, cinnamon and white pepper. It was these spicy ingredients that accorded it its name “pane forte“, meaning “strong bread”. The origins date back the 13th century and some say the so-called Panforte Game is just as old. It’s much like boules or shuffleboard: Each participant use their (wrapped!) panforte as a curling stone or disc and throw it onto a table. The cake closest to the edge wins.
This roman delicacy is not unlike Panforte or panpepato. Traditionally, it was made mixing dried fruit, candied citrus and honey but now it can include pistachios, almonds, small drops of dark chocolate, fruit and nuts. Every family has its own recipe. The rich dough is covered in a thin layer of flour dough and baked until the crust is golden, supposedly to resemble the sun and to be used as offering on winter solstice.
While Christmas are the holidays where we come together as family and wish for peace all over the world, the Italian families can have real battles over, which Christmas cake to have during the holidays. Usually the battle is between Panettone lovers, who think that Pandoro is too dull and the Pandoro fans, that hate raisins and dried fruits in the Panettone cake.
There is only one peaceful solution: you buy both! Or cheat as we did and buy one with chocolate instead.
Buon Natale and Merry Christmas! If you’re want to learn about other peculiar European Christmas traditions, check out what is bigger than Christmas itself in Spain.