PANETTONE SEASON! by Judith Works – Day 6 Advent 2017


Day 6 Advent 2017

Actually, it’s the holiday season. In the US this means from Thanksgiving to New Year’s day. So I have about five weeks to indulge in my favorite treat: panettone, that traditional sweet and oh-so-delicious Italian Christmas bread. About the first of November the stores, even in my corner of Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, begin stacking up the colorful boxes in windows and shelves and I begin loading up the shopping cart. The bread is distinctive – tall and domed and nestled in a paper cuff. The height comes from letting the dough rise three times over a period of 20 hours. It usually weighs a kilo and is sturdy enough to last for days without going stale (although it seldom lasts long in our household). The packaging, which gets ever-more elaborate, almost always features a ribbon handle all the better to carry it home and many times in Italy I’ve seen people carrying them home on the bus and Metro.

Ideal for hostess gifts, I also use it for non-traditional recipes like bread pudding and French toast (I should call it Italian toast) although there’s nothing better than a simple wedge served with orange juice and coffee on a Christmas morning in front of the fireplace.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the bread: The current iteration originated in Milan in the early 20th century but it has ancient origins, possibly back to Roman times when the aristocrats dined on a leavened bread sweetened with honey. A slightly more plausible origin is a story about a cake flavored with lime zest and raisins served at the Duke of Milan’s table in the 15th century. Attesting to its popularity, it soon began to be depicted in paintings, and in the 18th century a “Pane di Tono” or luxury cake was mentioned by an Italian writer, Pietro Verri. Whatever the earlier varieties contained, modern bakers can’t resist experimenting with additions beyond raisins such as chocolate, dried figs, pears, orange or citron peel, mascarpone, or sweet liqueur to tempt the shopper.

How could anyone resist?  Not me!

Judith Works is the author of a memoir recounting ten years of food and frolic in Rome. Coins in the Fountain is available on Amazon.


Saint Martin’s Day

Today, is the 11th of November. In my very early childhood I celebrated Saint Martin’s Day every year. When I started school, I was shocked to discover that this was not celebrated everywhere in Germany, that so many children had no idea what fun the 11th of November could be.

National Blog Posting Month, NanoPoblano, NaBloPoMo, 2015Proudly equipped with a handcrafted lantern I would join the other kids in the Saint Martin Procession through the small town in which my kindergarten was located. We would follow Saint Martin sitting on his horse through the streets, singing songs in his honour. Sometimes a little accident would happen, such as a lantern lighting up in flames, it was not only scary but also heartbreaking that all this hard work, all these efforts were erased in a few seconds.

The lyrics of these songs have actually taught me many details of the story behind Saint Martin. He was a Roman who was for some reason searched for by the police. At one point he encounters a beggar who is only dressed in shreds, he divides his cloak and gives half of it to the poor fellow. Then he hides inside a farm building, not knowing where he goes he finds himself in the company of geese. But unlike geese normally do, these keep their beaks shut and don’t give Saint Martin away. Turns out that I did not remember the right details/I was told an alternative version of the story (most likely)… The geese did give him away! (Sorry for this hiccup).

To honour the quiet geese, often people will feast on Saint Martin’s day with a goose. We never had goose that day, but we received Weckmänner, small brioche cakes in the shape of a man equipped with a pipe. Let me tell you they were so good.

After the procession in honour of Saint Martin was over, it was time to go from door to door and sing to people, who in exchange for the songs gave candy and treats to us children singing them. I remember receiving healthy food such as clementines from one of my neighbours, I guess not everyone was informed of this regional tradition.

When I later went trick or treating on Halloween, I was reminded of Saint Martin’s day, I was just missing my lantern.

© Solveig Werner 2015. All rights reserved.