Sweeten the holidays with Italian panettone

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yahei Suzuki holds a loaf of panettone at Italian restaurant Piatto Suzuki in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

Panettone has long been a traditional Christmas treat in Italy, where it was first made in Milan. In recent years, bakeries and restaurants across the nation have helped make this baked treat loaded with dried fruit more readily available in Japan.

For those looking for something unique to sweeten their holiday season, panettone fits the bill as the perfect dessert.

Appetizing, shapely treat

Milanese panettone, known for its towering dome shape, is typically about 20 centimeters in diameter, 15 to 20 centimeters tall, and weighs about 1 kilogram.

Panettone is the culmination of the addition of raisins and other dried fruits to a dough made through lactic acid fermentation using flour and fruit-based yeast.

The dough’s fermentation process is what gives panettone its uniquely sweet aroma and fluffy texture.

Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Tokyo
Three varieties of panettone sold at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo hotel in Chuo Ward, Tokyo

People in Italy give panettone as a gift of appreciation toward the end of the year or serve it for dessert at parties. It also makes for a great breakfast addition or as a nibble paired with wine.

Italian restaurant Piatto Suzuki in Azabujuban, Tokyo, is in peak panettone season.

Yahei Suzuki, the restaurant’s owner and chef, has been making panettone for more than 25 years. In 2019 before the novel coronavirus pandemic began, he participated in five contests in Italy from which he took home a number of awards.

Piatto Suzuki’s panettone can be found on the restaurant’s dessert menu and is also available via mail order for ¥3,960.

As at-home consumption has become commonplace amid the pandemic, Suzuki said that the restaurant has received about 1.5 to 2 times more orders compared to last year.

Aside from fermenting the yeast, the process from making the dough to finishing the panettone takes three days.

“Even though [making panettone] takes a lot of work and effort, it’s quite interesting,” Suzuki said.

Italian loafs, Japanese tastes

Originally, most panettone was imported, but over time more shops in Japan have begun baking it, according to Hiroaki Ikeda, who runs bread research facility Panlabo.

The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, a hotel in Chuo Ward, began year-round sales of panettone this spring, offering seasonal flavors such as strawberry in spring and tropical fruits in summer. Currently, three kinds are on sale, including one with chestnut and cassis.

“We’d like to offer a variety of flavors to correspond with Japan’s four seasons,” said the hotel’s chief baker Tomohiko Nakamura.

Fiocchi, an Italian restaurant in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, began selling preservative-free panettone on a seasonal basis last autumn, offering a 750-gram large panettone at ¥4,320, and a 500-gram medium at ¥3,456.

A group of Italian food culture aficionados established the Panettone Society to promote panettone’s particular charms. With the goal of connecting producers and consumers, the organization holds events where various panettone flavors can be compared and online baking courses are offered.

“I want as many people as possible to understand all the ways they can enjoy panettone, which has a different flavor and texture depending on the person making it and the drink paired with it,” said Rie Yagi, the organization’s representative director who also owns a public relations company. More events are planned for the future.

“Panettone is perfect for sharing and eating with others. I hope people will readily use it as an opportunity to gather with family and friends,” Ikeda from Panlabo said.