Italy’s Classic Holiday Desserts

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Panettone, tall and dome shaped, this soft, not-too-sweet yeast cake with a fruity tang of raisins and candied oranges is the quintessential Italian Christmas dessert. This Italian import is sold online or in gourmet shops.

Panettone making follows an extraordinarily elaborate and time-consuming process—taking over 40 hours.  It’s kneaded and left to rise several times before baking, with flour, eggs, butter, sugar, and candied fruit added in stages.  At last, once each cake has been allowed to rise in its own little panettone paper container, it’s baked, cooled, wrapped in plastic, packed up by hand, and sent on its way.  There are even variations covered in chocolate and pistachios.

Italy’s Classic Holiday DessertsDelicious served plain, accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine like Prosecco Superiore CV. Or you can dress it up by serving it with pistachio or almond creams or mascarpone cheese whipped with your favorite sweet liqueur. One easy variation, a sort of instand rum baba, is to soak panettone in spiked syrup, made by dissolving 3 cups of sugar in 1 1/2 cups boiling water until dissolved, then adding ¼ to ½ cup rum to taste.

Panettone has spawned many legends. The most popular concerns a young Milanese nobleman, a member of the Atellini family, who fell in love with the daughter of a baker named Toni. To impress the girl’s father, the young man disguised himself as a baker’s assistant and invented a new, fruitcake-like bread. People came to the bakery in droves to purchase the magnificent new creation dubbed Pan de Toni –“Tony’s bread.” A variation of the legend has Toni saving the day by inventing the bread as a quick replacement for a dessert that had burned while being prepared for a Christmas feast held by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.

 After the holiday, leftovers, if there are any, can be served in many ways:

-1- Panettone “Bellini”

In serving glass, layer slices panettone, splash prosecco or Asti Spumante, peaches, chocolate, whipped cream. Top with pretty sugar & almonds, if you like.

Italy’s Classic Holiday Desserts-2-Panettone Panini

Toast, slather with almond or pistachio creams. Or, fill slices with chopped dark chocolate and toast in panini press. Peanut butter and jelly are delicious too.

-3- Panettone Bread Pudding

Layers panettone, beaten eggs, cream, sugar, dollops jam, mascarpone, with chopped chocolate. Bake at 350 until set, about 40 minutes.

-4- Ice Cream Cake

Hollow panettone, fill with ice cream, freeze. Serve with your favorite toppings. Use the center for above desserts.

-5- Caramelized Panettone

Melt butter in skillet. Sprinkle panettone with grappa and sugar on both sides, fry, flip, serve warm.

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  • Francine Segan

    Francine Segan, James Beard finalist and author of 6 cookbooks, can be found throughout NYC giving fun talks and cooking demos. She’s a regular at the 92nd St Y, Eataly’s cooking school, Chocolate Show, and New York Times Travel Show. Her specialty is Italy and her latest books are Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy and Dolci: Italy’s Sweets . She has appeared on numerous TV programs including Today Show, Early Show and Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. Peek at for more info on her books & upcoming talks Visit Francine at:

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