Italian-Style Christmas:
Traditional Holiday Cakes and Sweets

If you are in Italy for the holidays, you will find that every little village or town across the Italian countryside has a unique Christmas cake for which it is known, though there are three classics: Panettone, Pandoro, and Panforte. These are found in bakeries and homes everywhere, and also in specialty shops abroad during the holiday season. If you are an experienced pastry chef you can also try to make these at home, though most Italians buy these cakes in their local bakeries because the recipes are not so simple. Italians also enjoy a sweet nougat originating in Cremona called Torrone during the holiday season. Here is a bit about what makes each one special.

Christmas panettone Chiostro di Saronno Lazzaroni


Panettone is a Milanese buttery, fluffy cake dotted lightly throughout with golden raisins, currants, or candied fruit. Since the 1950s panettone has become increasingly common regardless of region. The custom of serving panettone during the year-end holiday season spread from Milan to all of Italy, from the Alps in the north to Sicily in the south. As the sweet bread's popularity grew, people began to speculate about its origin and many legends arose which you can read more about here.


Originating in Verona, pandoro is a Christmas cake similar to panettone in texture, but generally a little sweeter, softer, and taller, and it is made without the candied fruit or raisins of panettone. It is traditionally shaped to look like a Christmas tree or mountain top. Pandoro is served dusted with vanilla-scented powdered sugar to resemble the snow of the Italian Alps during Christmas. To create a truly authentic pandoro cake, you need a specialty mold that will allow you to recreate the craggy mountain peaks in miniature. The cake itself is rich and buttery, sometimes with a little touch of lemon for contrast. Both panettone and pandoro are also sometimes made with chocolate toppings and fillings.


This is a dark, dense and chewy sweet Christmas cake from Siena with a unique history and composition. Panforte, translated as “strong bread”, might best be described as a peppery fruitcake made of a number of different spices including pepper, honey, dried candied fruits, and nuts. Today’s panforte (sometimes called panepepato) is a descendent of a very early traditional cake from the 13th century. 


Besides cakes, this magical part of the year in Italy also brings candies called torrone and torroncini. Torrone is a traditional Christmas nougat made with honey, sugar, egg white, and nuts, along with vanilla or citrus extracts. Many different varieties exist and they range in texture from morbido (soft and chewy), to duro (hard and brittle). The nuts used in this confection are most often hazelnuts, almonds, or pistachios. Some commercial versions of torrone are now dipped in chocolate. Torroncini, or small individual size torrone, are individually wrapped and make for a perfect stocking stuffer or the contents of a pretty candy dish.

No matter where you are, now it is easy to find any of these special treats prepared and beautifully packaged, ready to bring home to the family or to give as a gift to friends and loved ones during the holiday season. If you would like to read further details about these delicious Italian holiday treats, you can click on the links at the right. Happy Sweet Holidays!

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