It's NOT fruitcake. Or at least that was what I was told when I was first offered a slice of Panettone. I must admit to not being overly fond of fruitcake. My earliest memories are of a rocklike substance covered in foil that a friend of the family took out of her freezer. It was heavy, had fluorescent green and red, bulbous, squishy to the tooth items in it, and was generally unappealing to my then pre-pubescent sensibilities. To be polite to our hosts, my mother forced me to eat the drenched in cheap alcohol awful item and I vowed never to try fruitcake again.
Fast-forward 15 years, the man I was dating and professed to love was offering me a slice... what was I to do? I ate it. It was nothing like the fruitcake from my childhood. Panettone is a light and airy confection that was originally only for the noble table of the ruling Sforza family in Milan. Often shaped like a chef's hat, cylindrical tall sides and a round fluffy top, its true origins are lost to history, although there are many stories. It is reserved for the Christmas season when the nobles allowed the regular populace a bit of elegance, or in the Milanese dialect Ton, the word for luxury. That is how it got its name - pan (bread) de (the/of) Ton (luxury).
The flavor of a Panettone is a cross between a sweet pastry and bread. In Italy, there are as many recipes for it as chefs. In fact, in the early 1930's the two major commercial bakers of Panettone, Motta and Alemagna, were in such stiff competition to produce more than the other, that they developed a method for industrializing the process.
Italians traditionally eat Panettone for breakfast, which is what is happening now in our home. However, there are many other ways of serving it, such as carving out the inside and putting whipping cream in for a dessert or using it as the base for a delectable sweet sandwich.
Once reserved only for nobility, premium Panettone is now a sought-after Christmas gift and a great giveaway item. One can find them made solely with cherries, or with the grapes from prosecco. Loison, one of our family's favorite Panettone makers, has created a panettone infused with Maculan's Torcolato, a precious dessert wine that makes the cake moist and rich. True Italian Panettone is one of the highlights of the Christmas season and certainly not a fruitcake to be stored, until next year, in anyone's freezer.