PANETTONE SEASON

Hooray! It’s Panettone season around here.

Actually, it’s the holiday season. In the US this means from Thanksgiving to New Year’s day. So I have about five weeks to indulge in my favorite treat: panettone, that traditional sweet and oh-so-delicious Italian Christmas bread. About the first of November the stores, even in my corner of Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, begin stacking up the colorful boxes in windows and shelves and I begin loading up the shopping cart. The bread is distinctive – tall and domed and nestled in a paper cuff. The height comes from letting the dough rise three times over a period of 20 hours. It usually weighs a kilo (just over 2 lbs.) and is sturdy enough to last for days without going stale tho’ probably not as long as my mother’s fruit cake that was tough enough to survive a dogsled trek to the North Pole.  The packaging, which gets ever-more elaborate, almost always features a ribbon handle or bow all the better to carry it home. During our time in Italy, I often crowded into a jammed car on the Metro to share what little space there was with others toting their own panetonne.
Ideal for hostess gifts, I also use it for non-traditional recipes like bread pudding and French toast (I should call it Italian toast) although there’s nothing better than a simple wedge toasted and served with orange juice and coffee on a Christmas morning in front of the fireplace.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the bread: The current iteration originated in Milan in the early 20thcentury but it has ancient origins, possibly back to Roman times when the aristocrats dined on a leavened bread sweetened with honey. A slightly more plausible origin is a story about a cake flavored with lime zest and raisins served at the Duke of Milan’s table in the 15th century. Attesting to its popularity, it soon began to be depicted in paintings, and in the 18thcentury a “Pane di Tono” or luxury cake was mentioned by an Italian writer, Pietro Verri. Whatever the earlier varieties contained, modern bakers can’t resist experimenting with additions beyond raisins such as chocolate, dried figs, pears, orange or citron peel, mascarpone, or sweet liqueur to tempt the shopper.

How could anyone resist?  Not me!

All photos copyrighted by Judith Works
  

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CHRISTMAS IN ROME

The Christmas season in Rome begins on December 1. We had the pleasure of participating in the start of the festivities in Piazza Navona and  the neighborhoods. The first event on our list was the annual United National Women’s Guild bazaar with shopping opportunities from the world over to fund projects in developing countries.

 

We paused at this shop on the way to Piazza Navona to inspect their treats:


Next stop was wonderful Piazza Navona where the traditional Christmas market was being set up.

 

One of the most important traditions is that of a Nativity Scene, first popularized by St. Francis in the 1200s. Many stands feature enormous selections of figures to make your own: the Holy Family, peasants and now some Nelson Mandelas, food, animals and cork-bark shelters for angels to hover over.

  
And of course there are loads of stalls filled with toys.

 

And a carrousel:

And, the most important, the wizened old grannies called befane who fly through the air astride
broomsticks. La Befana is the witch who brings Christmas treats to children if they are good and coal if they have been bad. She arrives on the night of January 5th to ensure gifts are ready on Epiphany morning in remembrance of the Gifts of the Magi. But no real worries – the “coal” is really black candy, so bambini are never very worried.

In case you want to know more here’s a delightful clip: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=meR3gMhtfPE

 

 

When it was time for a snack we stopped by the chestnut vendor:


Finally, ready for a return to our hotel we paused at the Pasticceria Barberini on the Via Marmorata for a coffee and a look in their window:  

A perfect start to the season which we would soon be celebrating in our home in the Pacific Northwest. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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