Ari's Picks

Piemontese Panettone with Marrons Glacés

An early chance to buy a whole bunch of great Christmas gifts

In 1838, the year after the barn at Cornman Farms was built, Filippo Barbero had begun working as a baker at the church of Mombercelli, about fifteen miles south of the small city of Asti in northern Italy. Forty-five years later, Filippo’s son started the bakery as a business. Later still, Filippo’s grandson Davide grew the company—it’s his first initial that’s on the logo. Today in 2022, D. Barbero crafts some of the best northern Italian confectionery around; torrone of all sorts, Columba cakes for Easter, and panettone for Christmas.

illustration of a panettone from D. BarberoA few weeks ago, we got a special shipment of an exceptional panettone from D. Barbero. It’s studded with one of my long-time favorite confections, small pieces of marrons glacés. Cooked chestnuts that are soaked in sugar syrup, then dried and rolled in sugar, are what we might say was the medieval equivalent of gifting a box of great chocolates back in the days before chocolate arrived in Europe. The panettone isn’t just delicious; the decorated paper wrapping is wholly beautiful! Ideal for gifting to office groups, cake-loving cousins, long-time loyal clients, food-focused friends, or the neighbor you know next to nothing about.

Panettone, if you don’t already know it, is probably the most prominent of modern-day Italian Christmas breads. Panetto means a small cake; panettone a bigger small cake. Its origins likely go back to Roman times, and it became popular centuries later as a specialty of Milan. Its nearly overwhelming modern-day popularity dates to the years following the starting of the Barbero family bakery. They were, it seems, “ahead of their time,” and all these years later continue to craft exceptional products. Light, delicate, exceptionally aromatic, redolent of real Madagascar vanilla, sweetened with acacia honey, and laced with small bits of those marvelous and magical marrons glacés.

How to Eat Panettone

What do you do with panettone? Eat it and appreciate it! In Italy, many millions of them are given as gifts. Once you have one, just opening the package alone will enhance your day. I brought one of these home the other day in order to write about it. I opened it, took a small bit out to taste, and then rewrapped it. The aroma was evident as soon as I opened the door to come into the house the other evening!

You can just tear off a piece and eat it—imagine the lightest, richest, most angelic challah you’ve ever had. Unlike most challah, which are made without dairy, panettone is loaded up with butter—making it richer and silkier in texture. You can toast it lightly as I did this morning or even make it into French toast for Christmas morning or any other day you want to start in a special way.

Panettoni are made at the beginning of each season to last through the holiday, so buying now is a great way to get ahead of the holiday game.

Ship a panettone to your pal in Peoria

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