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For Italians, nothing says Holiday (and Italy) like panettone, a famous holiday pastry that serves as a treasured gift, delicacy, and piece of history.

The Tradition of Panettone

As the air gets crisp and coats are gathered from storage, we feel the holiday season descend upon us in the blink of an eye. In the last months of the year, we are reminded how powerful and healing celebrations can be. Festive decoration, catchy songs, and feel-good movies lift our spirits. And even more so, we find comfort in the yearly traditions that bring us a sense of identity and peace, no matter how small. For Italians, nothing says Holiday (and Italy) like panettone, a famous holiday pastry that serves as a treasured gift, delicacy, and piece of history.

The Artisanal Process of Making Panettone

Italian-made panettone is a delicately sweet leavened bread traditionally filled with candied orange, citron zest, and raisins. It is recognized for its tall dome shape and is beautifully packaged in a festive wrapping, making it ideal for gifting. During the holiday season, Italians buy panettone directly from supermarkets, bakeries, and delis, considering the creation of the dessert is no easy feat. Fresh ingredients and the timely process separate the great artisanal-made panettone from the processed kind.

To make a perfect batch, bakers begin with the starter culture (lievito madre), egg, flour, and butter to create the dough and proceed to work on it for three days. Before baking, sweet raisins, candied fruits (stored in lemon juice), sugar, and other final touches are mixed in. Once warm out of the oven, the panettone is hung upside down for up to ten hours, ensuring its dome shape, and is then carefully packaged by hand. It’s a labor of love appreciated and savored throughout Italy and the world.

A Sweet Story from Pannetone’s History

Originally from Milan, this holiday treat is steeped in history, with legends surrounding its origin. The most famous legend dates back to the 15th century and recounts the Christmas dinner at the court of Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan. It was after the head pastry chef burnt the evening’s dessert to a crisp that one of the young kitchen aides, Toni, came to the rescue with a last-minute solution. Proving his resourcefulness, Toni took leftover dough and mixed it with the ingredients at hand: eggs, sugar, candied fruit, and raisins. The result was a fluffy, sweet loaf of bread – unassuming but ready to serve to the hungry guests. In the end, the Duke praised the pastry chef, who then admitted that the dessert had been made by Toni, or pane di Toni, which would become known as panettone. Or so legend says.

Making the Tradition of Panettone Your Own

Like panettone, Sant Ambroeus also originated in Milan, where the first of our cafés was opened just steps from Teatro La Scala in 1936. It wasn’t until 1982 that we would move to the island of Manhattan to start a new adventure with our Milanese roots moving forward ever since. This shared origin makes the tradition of panettone near and dear to Sant Ambroeus’s heart. That is why every holiday season, we provide our clients the best panettone there is to offer, making it available both online or at our many locations.

To each their own when it comes to sweet treats, but here are some ways we recommend you enjoy this classic Milanese dessert:

  1. Warm up a few slices in the oven and serve with a scoop of Sant Ambroeus gelato for a festive dessert.
  2. Cheers to the holiday season with panettone paired with a glass of Sant Ambroeus Prosecco.
  3. Pair the lightly sweet bread with a cappuccino for breakfast or brunch.
  4. To make this treat extra special, make a batch of Chef Falai’s La Ricetta del Mascarpone to spread on top.
  5. Join us for our special Panettone French Toast at one of our locations.

However you choose to serve up panettone, prepare yourself for the delicious goodness that brings us back to those wonderful memories of days, and holidays, gone by.