How to Recognize Them: Panettone (and Pandoro)

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Panettone (and Pandoro) are the two most popular traditional Christmas cakes in Italy, and in the last years it’s possible to find more and more of them also abroad.

But are they all the same? Of course not 🙂

I decided to write this post because some people I met abroad (but also Italians I have to say) were incredulous and even shocked to know that I use to pay an artisanal 1 kg panettone 30 euros or more in Italy, so I thought that it could be a good and maybe useful idea to explain what’s behind the generic names “panettone” and “pandoro”, also because to value just the price is not enough at all (outside Italy I saw average and industrial products sold at the same prices or even higher than certain top quality artisanal panettone!)

First of all let’s start saying that, in Italy, there are procedural guidelines to respect to label a product as “pandoro” or “panettone” (I’m talking about the traditional recipes), so it means that there are rules to follow during their production: specific ingredients and specific quantities of those ingredients. For example a “vegan panettone” cannot be sold with the name panettone, but they have to use some other names, because panettone can be made only with butter and eggs.

The ingredients must be the following (the percentages are referred to the dry product, so after baking it: during the baking process the liquids evaporate, raising the concentration of the ingredients which were in the dough before baking the product).

 

PANETTONE:

  • wheat flour
  • sugar
  • eggs of “A” category (“fresh eggs”), and there must be at least 4% of yolks in the whole product
  • butterfat, at least 16% of the whole product (so NO vegetable fats, NO margarine, no palm oil, only extra cocoa butter is allowed as explained below)
  • at least 20% of raisins and candied citrus
  • sourdough
  • salt

These are mandatory, then it’s possible to add also:

  • dairy produce
  • honey
  • malt
  • cocoa butter
  • yeast, no more than 1%
  • natural aromas and natural-identical aromas
  • emulsifiers
  • the preservative ascorbic acid
  • the preservative potassium sorbate

 

PANDORO:

  • wheat flour
  • sugar
  • eggs of “A” category (“fresh eggs”), and there must be at least 4% of yolks in the whole product
  • butterfat, at least 20% of the whole product (so NO vegetable fats, NO margarine, no palm oil, only extra cocoa butter is allowed as explained below)
  • sourdough
  • aroma of vanilla or vanillin
  • salt

These are mandatory, then it’s possible to add also:

  • dairy produce
  • honey
  • malt
  • cocoa butter
  • yeast, no more than 1%
  • natural aromas and natural-identical aromas
  • icing sugar
  • emulsifiers
  • the preservative ascorbic acid
  • the preservative potassium sorbate

 

These are the MINIMUM percentages to respect, especially for the industrial products.

So now let’s go to the main question: why are there panettone sold also just at 3-4 euros/kg and other (artisanal) products sold at 25-30-35 euros/kg? (prices in Italy, where actually the cheapest products are always used as “bait and switch” products in supermarkets and don’t reflect their real value).

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Of course, most of the industrial products are made with exactly the minimum quantities required in the official guidelines, reducing the costs, while the best artisanal confectioners make products that are made with higher amounts of yolks and butter, they don’t use any emulsifier and any preservative, any vanillin but real vanilla beans (which are much more expensive), any industrial candied citrus with sulfur dioxide but just high quality artisanal candied citrus (and not only orange but often also citron, which costs more and it’s usually specifically declared in the label when they use it), just natural aromas and not natural-identical (with the same aromatic fraction than the natural aromas extracted from the raw material with that name, but extracted from different raw materials), any yeast but just sourdough, and generally higher quality ingredients.

And those differences are evident: if you open and cut a high quality panettone first of all you will smell soon a much more intense and fresh citrus aroma, then you will notice that the dough it’s deep yellow (because of better quality yolks and higher amounts of them) and not a bland color  or almost white, you will notice the much better developed “alveolatura” (the air pockets visible inside), sign of a perfect and not “pushed” leavening (a panettone made in a traditional way it’s at least a 48 hours long job, but in the last year the famous confectioner Vincenzo Tiri introduced a third leavening, which pushes the time up to 72 hours), you will notice that it’s nicely soft and lighter, and you will notice a better moisture and not a dry product, and every bite it’s literally an explosion of flavors in your mouth.

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Moreover, we all know that exist flours and flours, butters and butters, eggs and eggs, raisins and raisins (the best are from Australia), candied fruit and candied fruit, in few words we all know that exist ingredients of different quality (and prices), which in the end all together can lead also to very different quality products that of course cannot have similar prices.

All of these things combined together are influencing the final price. As I wrote in the spoiler at the beginning, that’s simply obvious, right? 🙂

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Now that we know what must be the ingredients, let’s finally resume all the parameters to control in a perfectly executed panettone:

Appearance:
Control that the “alveolatura” has a quite uniform distribution, and it must be not too big (huge holes are a mistake). Candied and raisins must be present in a homogeneous and generous way. The crust and the dough must adhere and there must be no lumps and as I said big “caves” inside the dough.

Color:
The crust must be dark golden/hazelnut in color, but without being burnt. The inside must be of an intense yellow color, but not tending to brown.

Smell:
Panettone must have an intense but pleasant smell, but not pungent (a symptom of artificial flavors and other mistakes).

Flavor:
It must be well balanced, it shouldn’t be too sweet or with a bitter or sour aftertaste.

Texture:
Once you put in the mouth the panettone, it must be soft but not gummy, easy to chew and without being unpleasantly pasty/doughy. And when you rip off a piece it must come off as a flock of generous size. And it must keep a certain moisture, given also by the size and the quantity of the candied fruit.

The absence of these requirements reveals or the use of ingredients of poor quality or the fact that the process has been made too fast, without respecting all the times that a perfect panettone absolutely requires.

 

I hope this post was useful to someone, and now that you maybe know something more choose what you prefer but be always aware of what you choose 🙂 the knowledge always helps to avoid to get a bad buy.

What I mean is that it’s not necessarily needed to buy a 30-40 euros/kg panettone, also a 15 euros/kg panettone can be a good choice if it’s sold at a prize that respect its value 🙂 and be sure that the label respects the official procedural guidelines if it’s sold as “traditional italian panettone”, otherwise you are probably being cheated: the knowledge will help you to understand also this.

Merry Christmas to all of you! 🙂

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