When I lived in San Francisco, I used to love going to North Beach and picking out my Christmas panettone from one of the bakeries there. Each would have half a dozen styles to choose from, some made there, some imported from Italy, some sweeter, some with more candied fruit than others. And all carrying that irresistible heady scent of vanilla, sugar and eggs.
If you're Italian, panettone is one tradition that's obligatory at the holidays. There's something so festive about that ornate box with the sugar-dusted cake inside. And no worries if it doesn't all get eaten: stale, it makes wonderful French toast.
In Santa Monica, the Italian wholesale/retail import shop Guidi Marcello gets in a selection of panettone for the season, ranging from $23.95 to just under $40 each. Choose from half a dozen types, all artisanal.
Gessica Guidi cites a special one from Pasticceria Pitti in Livorno. "It doesn't get more artisanal than this. It won't be as soft as more commercial ones, but it's very fragrant." That one is $37.95 for a 750-gram loaf. "Another excellent one is Bonifanti from Piedmont, made with good butter, a special mother yeast and plenty of candied fruit." That's $28.95 for a kilo loaf. She also has one from Pasticceria Cova, the famous bar in Milan, at $37.95 for a kilo, and some with chocolate and dried figs or cherries from Colavolpe in Calabria. To order, call (310) 452-6277 or visit Guidi Marcelli.
If you prefer pandoro from Verona, the plain, fluffy sweet cake that omits panettone's candied fruit, she has that too, from $16.95 on up. One thing I didn't know is that you can make pandoro into a Christmas tree by cutting the tall star-shaped loaf horizontally and rotating the layers. Some people put mascarpone between the slices and raspberries on the tips.
Guidi suggested googling "albero pandoro" and hitting "images." I did it -- and found some pretty wild variations on the theme.
According to Guidi, while families in Italy eat their holiday meal, they keep their panettone and pandoro on top of a furnace or radiator. By the end of the meal, the cakes are perfectly warmed for dessert.
Another local source is Roma Italian Deli in Pasadena, (626) 797-7748. The Times' Jonathan Gold alerted me that the deli has plenty of panettone from the top-notch producer Loison in the Veneto. "Rosario blew out practically his entire produce section to make room for it," Gold says. Panettone there runs $21.95 to $24.95.
And Sorrento Italian Market in Culver City has just added an online site for mail order. That means you can order its pannetone with candied radicchio from Treviso ($14.99) or panettone with figs ($12.99), among others, and have it shipped anywhere in the country.
For other mail order sources, check Corti Brothers in Sacramento or Gustiamo on the East Coast. Corti Brothers lists 21 different panettone in the latest newsletter on its website. They come from two different bakeries -- Loison in the Veneto and Bardi in Piedmont. These bakers make more elaborate versions with Amarene candied cherries, Chinotto citrus, Calabrian Dottato figs or raisins plumped in sweet Torcolato wine. This year, there are a couple of new versions from Loison flavored with saffron and licorice, Ecuadorian chocolate bits or marron glacé (candied chestnuts). Boxed one kilo panettone, $30 to $44. To order, call 1-800-509-3663 or email email@example.com.
Gustiamo, the mail order source for all things Italian, has panettone from pastry chef Luigi Biasetto in the Veneto region of Italy. A 1.7-pound bread is $70. Biasetto makes his from a mother yeast that has been nurtured for 60 years, organic eggs, organic honey from the Alps and candied fruits from Sicily. Considering that the festive sweet bread is consumed over a period of days and many meals, the price doesn't seem as daunting. To order, call (718) 860-2949 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.