It’s one of our great British ironies that the richly spiced mince pies and densely fruited Christmas cake that traditionally mark our festive season just aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. No wonder then that we’ve started to look further afield for festive goodies.
When it comes to sweet baking, the Italians have got it just right. Back in the 1920s, when Milanese bakers Angelo Motta and Gioacchino Alemagna began producing panettone at scale and spreading the popularity of this sweet, subtly fruited bread across the rest of the country, they probably had no idea quite how beloved it would become, right across the globe. And call us biased, but at Flour Station we consider panettone the perfect festive bread.
There’s so much to love. First of all, there’s a real sense of occasion when cutting into a fresh panettone, usually a sizeable, no-nonsense kilo in weight. Within that shiny dome is weeks of love and care – panettone, like sourdough, is a bread that takes its time, with a long, slow prove that gives it its characteristic fluffy interior. Then there’s the eating. Panettone is adaptable in a way that good old Christmas cake never can be. A slice or two is perfect with a caffè latte for a low-effort breakfast, delicious dunked in sweet wine or slathered with mascarpone at the end of a leisurely meal, and ever popular as a twist on traditional bread and butter pudding, too. Best of all, it’s a handsome bread, usually packaged in a distinctive dome-shaped box, or tied up in beautiful paper with string or ribbon. If there were an award for the most low effort, yet highly appreciated gift you could give, panettone would surely win it.
However, not all panettone were created equal. There’s a world of difference between the mass-produced and the artisan. Probably the biggest of all is that smaller, traditional producers only bake for the festive period, rather than all year round, as large-scale, factory-based producers do. That means smaller batches, no or few preservatives, and the freshest of ingredients, from eggs to butter and yeast. After searching for some time for a bakery with similar principles as our own, we discovered the Perbellini family, and their wonderful bakery in Bovolone, near to Verona. Brothers Giovanni, Enzo and Flavio are continuing in the tradition of their grandfather Giovanni, who started selling handmade sweet breads and biscuits in the 1890s, from the very same shop.
The Perbellini panettone is produced only for a short time in the build up to the festive period, using fresher-than-fresh ingredients and no preservatives at all. Tied up in their traditional brown paper with string and a vine twig carry handle, it’s as true to its roots as ever, and completely delicious with it. While most of us are content to devour their standard 950g loaf, the brothers have also started to produce a 4kg ‘quattrochili’ loaf for big families – or, we suppose, avid bread and butter pudding fans.
Perbellini’s wonderful panettone are available for a limited time from Flour Station. Visit www.theflourstation.com to find out more.