Friday, December 14, 2012


In my youth I’d heard about panettone, the traditional Italian fruitcake proffered only at Christmastime. I had pined for a taste but had never laid eyes on what I imagined to be a refined-tasting confection of golden-hued beauty. The weighty whole-fruit- and liquor-filled fruitcakes which Americans consume seemed coarse and common in comparison.

Then I moved to Italy and received a hefty number of panettone, handed out like Christmas cards by each and every acquaintance. Huge slices were presented in every home we entered, every restaurant in which we dined. I thought, ‘Wow, they really like their panettone!’ After a few years of this ritual, I came to realize that rather than devouring great quantities of the stuff, everyone was, in actuality, trying to unload their extras, re-gifting them to the next friend or stranger they happened upon in a desperate attempt to lighten their own fruitcake burden. While my friends would sing the praises of it - “e' tradizionale, molto buono,” they kept repeating - most of them would then admit that they didn’t really like more than a couple of slices a year themselves. Because, while the taste is not offensive, nor is it exactly a sensory experience. A few candied fruits and raisins in a high-rise, bread-like, sweetened airy loaf. Kinda boring, really. And the trouble is, everyone keeps giving them to everyone they know, creating a glut in every household.

The other holiday sweet-bread that is available, Pandoro, is better, because you don't have to dodge the candied fruit pieces, and the addition of butter gives it a bit better taste.  But personally?  I'd prefer a Poundcake.  Buttery goodness, real cake texture, and...well, it just tastes darn good despite the cholesterol-raising ingredients (which is, of course, what makes it yummy).  But that's the Americana in me.

I do find panettone more edible when made into French toast or slathered with Nutella, because as everyone knows, just about anything tastes better with Nutella. But still; there is only so much of it you can take, and because of the ridiculous, sheer excess we tried to figure out what to do with it, besides actually eating it. Sure, we could resort to feeding it to the pigeons, but we feel a sort of moral obligation to not encourage the flying rats to remain in the centro storico.

One evening, with nothing better to do than contemplate our panettone overload, we came up with a few brainstorms to have a little fun with the stuff, in case you ever find yourself in a similar position.

*Ding Dong Ditch It. You can relive your childhood games while spreading Christmas joy far and wide by leaving your unwanted boxes on the doorsteps of unsuspecting souls, ringing the doorbell and running away as fast as you can. This may best be played in a neighborhood other than your own if you don’t want to run the risk of your friends returning the gifts to your own front porch.

*Flame Them. Cut into rectangular sticks and let them sit out to dry. Then dip them in strong booze and use them as fire-starter sticks.

*Have a Treasure Hunt. Gather the little ones around the table and cut the panettone into as many wedges are there are kids. Then let them dig in and get their hands dirty, picking out all the raisins and fruit pieces. The one to find the most treasures wins a prize.