|Chocolate Panettone Bombe|
Dome-shaped golden panettone is that traditional spongey, fruit-studded, sweet Christmas bread that is to an Italian Christmas what fruitcake is to other parts of the world. It may be even more welcome than its much maligned counterpart and in my experience more welcome when gifted. Lavish with golden raisins, citrus peel, eggs and butter, panettone epitomizes the richness and generosity of the season. Panettone originated in Milan, in the north of Italy, but has spread all over the country and around the world. I grew up with fruitcake, and in the old British tradition fruitcake even presented itself at my wedding, but, living in the melting pot of cultures we call Canada I eagerly adopt other traditions. During the holidays, you can't come or go from an Italian home without receiving or giving a panettone.
For those of you who read these pages you will know that in the fall of last year I had an extended stay in Italy. I was sad to leave but especially sad to leave just as the country started to drape itself in holiday finery. How I would have loved to roam the streets of Naples in search of the perfect presepe or taste "the best" panettone which in Italy often holds a DOP status, an official Protected Designation of Origin stamp, which certifies its quality and provenance. After all there is panettone and there is panettone! Once you've tasted a slice of truly wonderful handmade panettone which is slowly-leavened, delicately flavoured and fluffy-as-a-pillow, then and only then, will you know what all the fuss is about. Someday I hope to take the time to make my own which involves having panettone paper crowns and hanging it suspended upside down, but, until then our local Italian grocer has some delicious varieties. This may not be Italy but our local Italians want the best available.
Whether you make your own or have store-bought you may inevitably end up with leftovers. If you are like me you may even buy extra just so that you will always have leftovers and hope that every Italian friend will gift you with a panettone. Over the holidays I like to make panettone bread pudding or perhaps French toast, but several years ago I watched Jamie Oliver create a stunning dessert from leftover panettone and fruit that has cemented itself in my holiday traditions. Just add some vin santo (an Italian dessert wine) and you will have a dessert that wows your guests with so little effort you won't feel you deserve all the compliments...but accept them anyway!
Vin santo ('Holy Wine') is the name given to the amber-hued dessert wine traditionally from central Italy. There are similar wines made in other Italian wine regions, and the vinsanto I have had on Santorini in Greece is almost identical in both name and style, but the Tuscan hills retain a long-standing connection with these golden, intensely flavoured wines. These "straw wines" are so named because they are traditionally made from grapes left to dry out on straw mats after harvest. The mats are placed in the warmest, driest part of the home (or winery) so the grapes gradually desiccate over the winter. Each drop of wine would be precious!
A typical vin santo offers aromas of apricots and orange blossom, followed by a caramel, nut and raisin-rich palate with a hint of honey and cream on the finish. What could be more perfect for this decadent dessert bombe. Of course if it is not available you could use a late harvest or even an ice wine available here in Canada. You can read about its very different origins in this post here.
Whatever you do make this dessert part of your tradition! Bring a piece of Italy home, but twist it into something that your guests will talk about for years to come.
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