What makes an exceptional panettone?

I asked food journalist Michela Di Carlo who writes for the Italian national paper, La Republica, what makes one panettone stand out from the others and why I should spend so much money on what is essentially just a piece of cake.
Here she refers to her favourite brands as the Rolls Royce of bakery and wants us Brits to understand how panettone should be made in the hope that we can discover the true delights of a ‘real’ pannettone.
What to look for
For me to properly appreciate a panettone Michela and I unwrapped one of the brands we have on sale at Caffe Caldesi. Firstly I noticed the weight of it, the heaviness, Michela explained, was a good sign. Secondly the aroma, vanilla, orange and general baking loveliness wafted upwards as we cut into it.  Inside it had a good amount of candied fruit and was dense and moist rather than dry and crumbly. This accounted for the weight we felt earlier. This panettone is from Piedmont and local hazelnuts were used to make a coating to the cake which was then studded with almonds giving added crunch.  Albertengo Tradizionale Panettone retails at £22 so it isn’t a Mr Kipling price but it would serve 10—12 hungry Italians at Christmas.  We ate it with a dessert wine in the evening and had more in the morning with cappuccino.
Michela explains the following:
As the rich order caviar straight from Russia, panettone devotees can experience the real thing by ordering straight from Italy.
It’s a very artisanal job and these bespoke cakes can only be made to order. Each panettone takes three days to be ready, that’s why they are so expensive and so good. For people living abroad, the only way to get these luxury panettone is to contact these bakeries (via telephone or via website) and place an order well in advance. You can find the details, addresses and phone numbers below.
Soft, fruity, with the seductive aroma of vanilla and citrus, and so Christmassy. This is Panettone, the typical sweet bread loaf originally from Milan, one of the most popular Italian icons during the seasonal holidays. With its distinctive tall dome shape, it could be eaten toasted or filled with mascarpone, chocolate or custard, even if the traditionalists prefer it plain. The name is generally believed to hail from the word panetto, which means small loaf, but other explanations suggest that it comes from the Milanese phrase “pan del ton”, meaning luxury bread.
Nowadays, you can find Panettone almost all around the world, but it’s still very difficult to find an authentic product. The best ones are not usually seen sitting on a supermarket shelf, don’t need a fancy packaging and are only baked by Italian Master Pastry chefs who follow the original recipe. So, if you are a real gourmet keen on following Italian tradition, take note of our top five Panettone, but be ready to join a long waiting list if you want one (maybe next year you can place your order well in advance?)
1) L’immortale by Iginio Massari
Always sold-out well in advance, this is the masterpiece of the Milanese Maestro Iginio Massari, the King of Italian pastry chefs and founder of the Italian Master Pastry Chef Academy (Accademia Maestri Pasticceri Italiani). It is said he is the only one who can do “pure” miracles with yeast and we are sure you will make a “bella figura” with “L’Immortale” (The Immortal) on your Christmas table. It’s the best panettone coming from his ovens filled with candied orange pieces, chocolate chips, sultanas. Its heavenly soft.
Pasticceria Veneto
Via D’Acquisto Salvo, 8, Brescia
Ph. +39 030 392586.
Price 35 Euro
2) Pepe by Alfonso Pepe
Acclaimed every year as the best one ever by italian food experts, it conquers you every time with unusual twists. Try the one with Limoncello or milk chocolate and apricots from the Mount Vesuvius Volcano. The biggest surprise is that these delicacies are baked by a Master Pastry chef from Salerno, Alfonso Pepe, and not by a typical maestro from Milan. Its impossible to resist the temptation from the South!
Pasticceria Pepe
Via Nazionale 2/4,
Sant’Egidio Monte Albino (SA),
Ph. +39 081 5154151.
Price 32,50 Euro
3) Paradiso by Achille Zoia
A real treat by the Pastry Master Chef of the year, Achille Zoia from Cologno Monzese (Milan). His panettone is made using a formula which continues to remain a secret. All we know is that the dough is made in a different way compared to the other ones: a mix of butter, sugar, honey to which may be added sultanas, hazelnuts and chocolate drops. The top is usually covered with soft icing, almonds, and powered cocoa.
La boutique del dolce,
via De Giorgi, 2, Concorezzo (MB)
Ph.+39 6049251.
Price: 27 Euro
4) Panettone Cilentano Pan di Bufala by Salvatore De Riso
If you want to surprise your guests, this is the right panettone for you. It is produced with fresh buffalo butter and stuffed with white Cilento figs, walnuts, hazelnuts and wild fennel. Salvatore De Riso, alias Sal De Riso, is a Master Pastry Chef from Salerno, member of Accademia Maestri Pasticceri Italiani. He makes 10 different types of Panettone and is always searching for new ways to give pleasure and satisfaction to the sense of taste with new tricks  and combinations of ingredients. This year, he won the “Re Panettone” National Championships.
Sal De Riso, Costa d’Amalfi
Via Santa Maria della Neve- 84010 Tramonti, Salerno
Ph.039 089856446
Price: 28 Euro
5) Barocco Panettone with Prosecco Wine by Dario Loison
This is the best selling one from The Dario Loison production. A naturally leavened product, with the surface cut with a typical crisscross. The yellow dough is made with fresh milk, butter, cream and natural Madagascan Vanilla (Slow Food Presidio) and is enriched with Sultana Raisin and “Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G.” wine. Dario, a Master Pastry Chef from Vicenza, comes from a tradition of family bakers since 1938.  He is proud of his sourdough obtained from the natural fermentation of rye flour, water, milk and fruit as well as the production process: 72 hours of patient waiting. The secret of this success lies in the matching of tradition and modernity.
Dolciaria Loison
S.S. Pasubio, 6 – 36030 Costabissara (Vicenza)
Ph. +39 0444 557844
Price: 17,50 euro

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