Beneath its gorgeous outer wrap, the panettone is sealed in a cellophane bag. The moments after first opening are sublime. I stick my nose into the bag and inhale deeply. The smell fills me with a seductive mix of desire and wellbeing. The candied peel is first and then close on its heels is the scent of flame raisins. It’s bound together by vanilla and the caramel smell of long baking. Closing my eyes I can hear the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
I’m calling it a rich bread, as historically it would have been. But the eggs and butter in the dough give it a delicate cake-like quality. It’s often compared to brioche but I believe it’s a much softer dough. One of the clues is in the cooling. The panettone is suspended upside down once baked, like an angel food cake, so as to preserve its light-as-air structure and its domed, cupola-like shape.
The history of panettone doesn’t interest me that much. There are a few stories. Put simply its Milanese roots span several centuries. But for me, Panettone Classico is an exquisite experience of the here and now.
Once cut through, the dark burnished exterior gives way to a crumb the colour of saffron. It’s the colour of enlightenment and is synonymous with many Milanese delicacies. Egg is the second ingredient and yolks alone appear again further down the list. Its gorgeous gold hue owes much to the Italian chickens that lay eggs with orange yolks.
I like picking the dark caramelized nearly burnt bits from the traditional mould it’s baked in. The fruit is soft, fresh and tender. Large pieces of pale green and yellow citron, like translucent pieces of sea glass, fleck the bread. Tender is too tough a word to describe it. It’s something more. It’s like eating a sweet soft cloud pierced through with a ray of sunshine. It’s what I imagine cherubs would enjoy.
I like it plain with tea but I also toast it and lavish good butter on it at breakfast.
It’s artisanal bread and, like everything Rustichella d’Abruzzo makes, flavour is its reason for being. The quality of Panettone Classico owes everything to good ingredients and the good taste of its makers (and the people who share it). *
I offer this small sweet piece to you as a way to give thanks. It means so much to me to have people read my writing and enjoy it. As the writing goes, 2015 has been a good year. There’s been praise and plenty of connection. More than I could have hoped for.