Although many legends have grown up around the origin of panettone, two are the most famous one.

Italians everywhere eat Panettone while celebrating their Christmas holidays, but the word Panettone comes from the Milanese dialect ‘Pan del ton’, which means ‘luxury bread’. Yes, the Panettone is a local speciality. Why a luxury food? Because this sweet bread is filled with raisins, candied orange and citrus peel. Let’s go back to its origins!

How is panettone made today?

Its tantalizing taste is the result of a combination of prime-quality ingredients, fanatic attention to technique and… lots of patience.
To make the historic dome, it’s necessary to knead the dough, made from flour, natural yeast, eggs, butter and sugar, several times. After completing this stage, the dough is enhanced with the addition of raisins and candied fruit (usually pieces of candied citrus peel). The whole process involves three different stages of leavening, during which time the dough is extremely sensitive to temperature and humidity.

Panettone with raisins and candied fruit
Panettone with raisins and candied fruit

How to recognize the best traditional panettone

With so many options on offer, how do you recognize an authentic panettone? You might not know that panettone is governed by strict regulations. This classic Christmas cake can only be called panettone if it follows certain specifications, including natural fermentation, and the presence of at least 16% butter, 4% egg yolks and 20% raisins and candied fruit. Similar cakes, with different characteristics, are not allowed to be called panettone, so that the makers resort to names like, literally, ‘Christmas Cake’.

Wine to pair the most traditional panettone

How to serve panettone

Which wine pairs best with panettone? Don’t make the mistake of serving it with a dry sparkling wine, because this is one of those rare cases in which opposites don’t attract. In technical terms, it’s known as complimentary pairing: i.e. a sweet, aromatic dessert like panettone should be paired with a wine that is just as sweet and aromatic – a taste that elicits similar sensations on the palate. An excellent choice is either Passito or a Sicilian Malvasia, containing the same hints of raisins, dried fruit and candied citrus found in panettone. Other good matches include a Moscato d’Asti, a sparkling Moscato from the Oltrepò Pavese or a sparkling Recioto della Valpolicella. Alternately, teetotalers can enjoy their slice of panettone with an aromatic tea, also chosen for its complimentary ingredients, including notes of cinnamon, vanilla and orange zest.

Panettone with raisins and candied fruit
Panettone with raisins and candied fruit

Contemporary panettones and Italian varieties

Over the years this Christmas treat has offered enterprising chefs fertile ground for a variety of culinary experimentations to suit all tastes, although this horrifies the purists. These include versions that are covered with almond icing, filled with chocolate, made without raisins or candied fruit, infused with chocolate drops instead of raisins or, in more extreme cases, flavoured with truffles.
There are regional versions, inspired by the products and traditions of the terroir.
In Treviso, one of the most popular versions includes panettone made with candied red radicchio while, in Naples, some bakers have even launched “pizza panettone”, a version filled with sweet ricotta, candied fruit and raisins, topped with slivers of chocolate and a sprinkling of cocoa. Another Christmas favourite is Italy’s gastronomic panettone, a savoury version which can be filled with different types of charcuterie, smoked salmon, paté and a variety of cheeses. Over the past few years, the range has been extended to include whole wheat, organic or vegan versions. Also worthy of note are the variations on the theme. Vergani, a historic Milanese pasticceria, offers a street food version. Instead of the cup or classic brioche, customers can purchase a mini panettone filled with their favourite ice cream flavor. At the Vergani store in the Porta Romana district, you can also order panettone-flavoured ice cream ( Thanks to an innovative twinning between France and Italy, Eclaire de Génie, a French company that has won over the Milanese with its choux pastry éclairs, also pays tribute to this typical Christmas specialty. During the festive season, its branches, scattered across the city, sell éclairs filled with panettone cream, topped with a white chocolate icing and decorated with a sprinkling of panettone crumbs, candied fruit and gold flakes ( Lastly if you want to end your Christmas lunch on a high note, we recommend a glass of reserve Monteverro grappa with hints of vanilla and panettone (
But where should you go to taste or bring home authentic artisanal Milanese panettone? Read our list of the best shops 2018 and tell us what you think!