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Pandoro vs Panettone – Which Italian Christmas Cake is For You?

Pandoro and panettone basics, origins of pandoro and panettone, where to buy them, and pandoro vs panettone – a quick look.

Pandoro and panettone are Italy’s most delicious and popular Christmas desserts and one of our most traditional Christmas foods.

Pandoro is a super-sweet and fluffy cake with a topping of powdered sugar. Panettone is more aromatic thanks to the pieces of candied fruits and raisins.

Which one to bring to the Christmas tables really depends on you.

You must know that the choice of eating pandoro or panettone is one that Italians are passionate about: I’ve seen friends in heated arguments over which of these desserts tastes better!

Like everyone else, I have a preference: pandoro tutta la vita (“pandoro for life”)! My main issue with panettone is the candied fruits and the raisins, which I don’t like at all. I remember that when I was little, I used to take out all the little pieces of fruit and only eat the bread!

Pandoro and panettone are the true stars of the Christmas period, and both are wonderful gifts to give someone. And, if you don’t know the personal preference of the person, the safe bet is to give a panettone al cioccolato – I mean, who doesn’t love chocolate?

Spending the holidays in Italy? Or just curious about how we celebrate here? Check out our Christmas posts:
Where to Spend Christmas in Italy
Christmas in Italy for Kids – Traditions & How to Celebrate

How to Say Merry Christmas in Italian
Traditional Italian Christmas Foods

Traditional Italian Christmas Lunch
Authentic Italian Christmas Eve Dinner

Pandoro vs Panettone

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Pandoro vs Panettone – Italy’s Christmas Cake Debate

 PandoroPanettone
Place of OriginVeronaMilan
Name Meaninggolden breadluxury bread
Ingredientswheat flour, eggs, butter, sourdough, vanilla aroma, and saltwheat flour, sugar, eggs, sourdough, butter, raisins, and candied fruit (citron and orange)
Shapeeight-pointed starcylindrical with domed top
When ServedChristmas periodChristmas period
Drinks to Accompanysweet winessweet wines

Pandoro – Italy’s Golden Bread

Pandoro, Italy's 8-pointed star shaped Christmas cake.  Sliced and stacked, and sitting on a silver plate and red tablecloth with sparkly Christmas decorations on the table.

The Italian name pandoro‎ literally means ‘golden bread,’ and it derives from pan d’oro, a typical dessert of the Venetian nobles since the sixteenth century. The name refers to the gold-ish color of its outer part.

The spread of this cake to the city of Verona can be traced back to the 1800s, thanks to pastry chef Domenico Melegatti. He transformed pan d’oro into the popular Christmas dessert pandoro that we know today.

Pandoro Ingredients and Preparation

Pandoro has a precise preparation and the traditional recipe is still followed today. It’s shaped like an eight-point star, and is made from simple ingredients: wheat flour, eggs, butter, sourdough, vanilla aroma, and salt. However, don’t let these ingredients fool you: the preparation and baking of the pandoro are rather challenging!

You’ll know if you’re eating ‘good’ pandoro immediately.  When you taste it, pandoro should not be excessively sweet, you should smell and taste the aroma of butter and vanilla, and the cake should be soft and melt in your mouth.

When and Where You’ll Find Pandoro in Italy

Besides having a specific preparation method, pandoro is also served at a specific time of the year. If you visit Italy outside the Christmas period, you won’t find pandoro anywhere! From November until January, however, every local store and grocery store is filled with lots of pandoro from multiple brands. The most popular pandoro brands are: Maina, Bauli, Balocco, and Il Vecchio Forno.  The most famous Italian brand pandoro brand is Bauli. Beginning in November, you’ll see the Bauli pandoro advertisements on every Italian television channel!

Pandoro is eaten throughout the winter, but it remains a Christmas cake. The Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch cannot be considered done until the pandoro (or panettone) is served. Covered with powdered sugar and cut into slices, pandoro is usually accompanied by a delicious cream prepared with eggs, sugar, mascarpone cheese, and a teaspoon of Cognac. It can also be served with a scoop of vanilla gelato, with Nutella, or plain.

If you are in Italy during Christmas, it is very likely that guests and friends will gift you several pandori. But I’ll tell you a secret: you don’t need to eat them all at once! Pandoro’s soft texture makes leftovers perfect for preparing cakes or other desserts. You can ‘recycle’ pandoro by making canapés covered with chocolate cream as a base for an innovative tiramisù, or use it as a substitute for bread in your French toast recipe.

Panettone – Italy’s Luxury Bread

Panettone, an Italian Christmas cake.

On Christmas Day, everyone should enjoy a delicious dessert! This is what the pan de ton (luxury bread) was: bakers gave their rich and poor customers the same bread over Christmas.  The word panettone is derived from this Milanese pan de ton.

Panettone has an ancient origin that’s difficult to trace and there are several legends attached to its creation. The most popular is that in the fifteenth century, at the court of Ludovico Sforza, at a Christmas banquet, the chef accidentally burned the dessert. A young apprentice named Toni proposed to serve the sweet bread that he had prepared for himself, and when the Duke asked about the delicious bread, they told him it was the pan del Toni (the bread made by Toni).

The only certain thing about the birth of panettone is its birthplace – the city of Milan.

Panettone Ingredients and Preparation

Like pandoro, the ingredients used to make panettone are very simple: wheat flour, sugar, eggs, sourdough, butter, raisins, and candied fruit (citron and orange).

Panettone has a cylindrical shape, with a round base and a domed top (the cupola), which is not easy to make at home. Another challenge when making panettone is acing its intense but not overwhelming taste. In a good-quality panettone, you should be able to taste the butter, eggs, sugar, and the panettone should be soft, properly moist, and not chewy.

The traditional recipe is made with canditi (candied fruit) and raisins. However, panettone has come to have many variants, including:

  • rum and chocolate glaze
  • chocolate chips and chocolate glaze
  • pistachio cream and pistachio granola on top

When and Where You’ll Find Panettone in Italy

Panettone is the star of the Christmas tables everywhere in Italy (unless one prefers pandoro, of course). From November until the end of the Christmas holidays, Italians buy and eat panettone. The popular brands of panettone that you can easily find in every grocery store are Maina, Bauli, Balocco, and Il Vecchio Forno.

Whether bought in a grocery store or bakery, when you serve panettone, you only need to slice it before eating it! It’s never accompanied by creams or custards because they will cover the rich and fragrant taste of the cake.

You can use panettone leftovers to make tiramisù or truffles.

Where to Buy Italian Christmas Cakes

Pandori and panettoni line the walls of an Italian grocery store in December.
Pandori and panettoni line the walls of an Italian grocery store in December

You have many options if you want to buy a pandoro or panettone. Ordering a Christmas cake online is not very common in Italy, but it is a great idea if you don’t live in the country.

If you’re in Italy, you can buy pandoro and panettone from any grocery store. This is a great idea if you want to purchase a high-quality cake without spending too much. Our main grocery stores, like Conad and Coop, sell the most popular brands of Christmas cakes at prices as low as 4€ per kg!

Another option is to buy pandoro or panettone from a local bakery. They’re more pricey than the ones bought at the grocery store, and they need to be ordered in advance if you want to have them in time for your Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas lunch.

What Do Italians Drink with Pandoro and Panettone?

Italians usually drink an alcoholic beverage with their slice of pandoro or panettone.

Pandoro pairs well with sweet wines, and the classic pandoro partner is a glass of Moscato d’Asti Spumante. Another option is a glass of Malvasia.

Personally, I love eating pandoro alongside a glass of Malvasia (one of my favorite wines!) when served plain, while I prefer sipping coffee if I’m enjoying the pandoro with the mascarpone cream or Nutella.

Panettone is more difficult to match with wines because the raisins, candied fruit, and dough create an intense flavor that is not easy to pair. The trick is to match the panettone with a sweet wine because the sugar in it will complement the panettone’s taste. People usually eat panettone while drinking a good Moscato or Passito.

You’ll hear that coffee shouldn’t be paired with panettone, but I know many Italians who drink espresso while eating panettone (and pandoro). Christmas cakes are served at the end of the meal, and in Italy, that is the time for coffee (no matter what time it is)!

Homemade Pandoro and Panettone

Pandoro and panettone are sold as cakes, but they are incredibly challenging to make at home.

Working sourdough requires experience and time: just consider that the dough for both pandoro and panettone needs to rise for about ten hours! Another challenge is not having professional kitchen appliances: the oven at home might not have the right temperature, so your pandoro and panettone may end up being too dry inside.  The humidity and temperature of the kitchen have an impact on the result as well.

All this being said, I personally don’t recommend trying to make pandoro and panettone at home: the result will probably disappoint you, at least the first attempts at making them.  Plus, it’s easy to pick one up in Italy during the holidays – they’re everywhere you look!

Other Italian Christmas Desserts

Italian Christmas tree sugar cookies decorated with royal icing.

Besides the classics pandoro and panforte, Italy has a few other specialty desserts served during the holiday period, including:

  • Torrone
  • Pan forte
  • Struffoli
  • Tronchetto di Natale
  • Certosino (also called Panspeziale)
  • Biscotti con ghiacchia reale

I hope you find your perfect Italian Christmas cake this holiday season.  Will it be pandoro or panforte?

FAQ

Can you buy gluten-free pandoro?
Yes, you can buy gluten-free pandoro both at local bakeries and at grocery stores. For example, the popular brand Bauli produces a gluten-free pandoro.

Can you buy gluten-free panettone?
You can find gluten-free panettone throughout Italy at grocery stores and bakeries.