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Postcards from Parma: Here’s to Panettone All Year Round

Our contributor from Parma shares her embrace of panettone as a year-round delight after meeting one of the world's greatest pastry chefs.

Our contributor, Graceanne LaCombe, with a "summer" Panettone.

Our contributor, Graceanne LaCombe, on her way to a summer party with a Holiday Season treat.

Working at ALMA, the School of Italian Culinary Arts, I gloat that we have two Christmases: first, when the students make panettone and pandoro in July, as practice for the holidays, and second, when the students make panettone and pandoro in December, for the actual holidays.

Although the candied fruit in a panettone closely resemble Christmas tree ornaments and the pandoro looks as though it was just broken out of a snowglobe, I will still turn up at a summer party with either one in hand, inviting the strange gazes and cautious amusement felt by Italians.

It’s the common sentiment among Italians that panettone and pandoro are indulgences for Christmas time. I know this reigns true at least for the Parmense, for which July presents an environment similar to a sous vide (swimming in humidity with sweat-drenched clothes), and December is drastically different, full of snow flurries and iced prairies, making it easy to keep the two seasons in separate boxes.

Perhaps it is easy for me to partake in Christmas-related delicacies in the summer because, having grown up in Louisiana, my December was always characterized by perspiring under a stubbornly worn Christmas sweater and blasting the A/C (the line between winter and summer has always been blurred for me).

But I recently found out that my love for panettone and pandoro in the summer may not just be due to my origin; there are some Italians that share this feeling too!

Chef Luigi Biasetto holding one of his award-winning panettone.
Chef Luigi Biasetto, two-time winner of the Best Panettone in the World competition.

Recently, I had the chance to speak to Chef Luigi Biasetto of Pasticceria Biasetto in Padova, an Italian pastry chef who has twice, in recent years, won the Best Panettone in the World award in the Artisti del Panettone competition.

Having discovered that he was an advocate for year-round consumption of panettone, we immediately dove into the subject.

First, he gave me a bit of background, stating that in the summer of 1865, Alessandro Manzoni, a prominent 19th century Italian writer, asked his son in a letter to bring him panettone from the only year-round panettone producer in Milan, proving that panettone has not only been considered just a Christmas-time treat.

Chef Biasetto then described to me how he holds steadfast to the idea that there is no “right” season for panettone; he makes the delicacy throughout the year, using seasonal ingredients such as pistachio with cherry during spring and salted caramel with candied apple pieces in the fall.

Maybe the most visually striking is his summer panettone, in which the addition of turmeric and ginger in the dough reflect the sun’s warmth, while flavors of star anise and macerated raisins soaked in Marsala wine salute its wintery counterpart. Even the amount of butter and other heavy ingredients are lessened, so as to produce a lighter product for the summer.

Panettone and sparkling wine on a sailboat.
Photo courtesy of Pasticceria Biasetto.

Although Chef Biasetto has success in his seasonal panettone, he acknowledges the somber hiatus that many Italians annually enact from January to November.

After my conversation with Chef Biasetto (and the consequent, newly-found acceptance for my seasonally-challenged self), I have one persistent thought, a thought that will ring in my head from now until next Christmas, a thought that will probably manifest itself at more than a few parties this summer (with a Biasetto summer edition in hand): Let them eat panettone!

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