23 November 2013

Mountains of pannetone

at Wholefoods, Kensington High St
Waitrose, Finchley Road
This time of year, mountains of pannetone appear in the shops. Ah, those temptingly beautiful boxes - and the useful carrying handle - and lovely stuff inside...

Open the box and out tumbles a tall, round loaf - small in relation to all the space available in the box!

Tastes great, but try to put what's left back in the box though and you quickly discover just how useless that lovely box actually is...

At least it's recyclable. Rescue that lovely bit of ribbon though, with its plastic ends, a sort of leisure-time treasury tag - surely it has dozens of uses?

My slight irritation with what is actually a delicious and seasonal thing to eat has prompted me to find out more about it. Pannetone came from Milan and is one of the symbols of that city; large-scale production started about 1920. It's now eaten in many countries and is linked to Christmas and the idea of king cake. It has been hailed as " the king of the Italian Christmas dinner but also one of the most counterfeited Italian desserts around the world."

I'm not about to try making my own, even though this recipe requires only one rising, and this recipe promises not to have an "over-aerated texture":  "It is made during a long process that involves the curing of the dough, which is acidic, similar to sourdough. The proofing process alone takes several days, giving the cake its distinctive fluffy characteristics. It contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked. Many other variations are available such as plain or with chocolate." 

That summary comes from wikipedia, which also has some serving suggestions: "It is served in slices, vertically cut, accompanied with sweet hot beverages or a sweet wine, such as Asti or Moscato d'Asti. In some regions of Italy, it is served with crema di mascarpone, a cream made from mascarpone, eggs, sometimes dried or candied fruits, and typically a sweet liqueur such as amaretto; if mascarpone cheese is unavailable, zabaione is sometimes used as a substitute." Or, use any leftovers to make a posh bread-and-butter pudding.
No wonder there are mountains of pannetone in the shops - Italian bakers produce 117 million pannetone and pandoro cakes every year! Italians eat about 40 million of them. New technologies provide a shelf-life of five months, but even so, seasonal workers are needed. Italian companies producing "real" pannetone are Alemagna, Bauli, Flamingi, Maina, Motta, Perugina, Le Tre Marie, and Valentino.

The "tall, leavened fruitcake" has its predecessor in Roman times and has appeared (probably as a very much flatter cake) in art throughout the centuries, for instance in a 16th century painting by Pieter Breughel the Elder - possibly one of these -
Why the distinctive box? In Brazil at least, people have  "a curious habit of touching the products to see if they are really fluffy. And to protect those cakes, made with so much care, Bauducco designed the first box packaging" - that was 1965; the company now produces 60 million pannetone a year; it has 70% of the market in Brazil and exports to 50 countries. Their ovens are 54 metres long, and the process takes 48 hours from start to packaging.

The history of the box design eludes me (did the Italian companies borrow it from Brazil??), but in the search, these Pantone-chip pannetone boxes appeared -


Felicity said...

and it makes the BEST bread and butter pudding!

Linda Bilsborrow said...

I mis-read your blog title and anticipated seeing something about Pantone so couldn't understand your first image until I read on - and was rewarded right at the end! Good to see that someone has a sense of humour.