Panettone or pandoro: Which is the best Italian Christmas cake?

If you think Italy's two most famous Christmas cakes are fairly similar, think again. What's the difference? Why are people in Italy so divided in the great cake debate? And which one, really, is the best?

Panettone or pandoro: Which is the best Italian Christmas cake?
Pandoro and panettone are both classic Italian Christmas desserts, but which do you prefer? File photo: AFP
Both panettone and pandoro are well-known Italian Christmas cakes – though they’re not just eaten on the day itself, but enjoyed throughout December and into January.
With their cute packaging, plus luxury or miniature versions available from many bakeries, they make a perfect gift for friends and family.
But you may want to check first whether the person you’re giving the cake to is on team pandoro or team panettone – because many people in Italy have developed a strong preference for one or the other.
This can actually become a dilemma in many Italian families, and the only acceptable solution, of course, is to buy one of each.
Panettone (top right) in an Italian bakery. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
The two cakes can look pretty similar to the uninitiated – so what are the differences?
Panettone was originally made in Milan. It has a distinctive dome-shaped top and traditionally contains citrus peel and raisins or candied fruit – though all kinds of variations are available. The dough contains yeast and is cured in a similar way to sourdough – it needs to be left rise three times before being baked. 
Pandoro, which originated in Verona, is taller and star-shaped. Pan d’oro means ‘golden bread’, and the vanilla-scented cake gets its yellow colour from the eggs in the batter. It’s light, airy, and plain, and is usually dusted liberally with icing sugar before serving.
When The Local asked readers on Twitter which they preferred, there were some very strong opinions from both sides voiced by Italians and non-Italians alike.
“Pandoro is just too bland for my tastes, maybe I’ve never found the right one. However, I’m curious why they are such an inconvenient shape – too tall for cake boxes & kitchen cupboards!” wrote George Young.
“Pandoro all the way! so light and fluffy, panettone is just another stodgy fruitcake, every country has those and doesn’t really eat them anymore,” agreed Sarah.
While you might expect the Milanese to be the biggest panettone fans, some admitted that they actually prefer pandoro – while Verona residents say they’re also big fans of the nadalin, pandoro’s “humble ancestor”.
“The name means “little Christmas” in Veronese dialect. According to tradition, it was created in the 13th century to honour the Scaligeri, lords of Verona,” tweeted My Italian Circle.
People often ask which cake is really best and while everyone would answer that question differently, we did conduct an unscientific Twitter poll to find out which is most popular.
Panettone came out the clear winner with 61.5 percent of the vote, while pandoro got 33.5 percent.
Five percent said they’d have something else, and several laid-back respondents commented that they’d happily eat either or both.
The way you serve it can make all the difference however.
While some people admitted to giving up on cutting slices out of their cake and simply tearing chunks off it with their hands, others went for a more sophisticated approach.
“Definitely Team Panettone. Pandoro is great with lemony mascarpone for dessert, but it doesn’t have the versatility of panettone when it comes to leftovers…trifle, bread & butter pud, french toast, fried in butter and served with baked apples,” wrote Alice Mulhearn Williams.
While Angelo Boccato said that “Pandoro is simply delicious, especially when you add some Chantilly cream to it and panettone is significantly overrated.”
However, think twice before you attempt to get creative with any leftovers – one Italian in London recalled numerous “artery-clogging pandoro tiramisu abominations” brought to New Years’ Eve parties, which they described as “traumatic”.
If you’d like to try even more Italian desserts over the holidays, here’s more on the most delicious Christmas cakes from around the country.

Member comments

  1. In my family, panettone was breakfast food. We would gild the lily with butter, and have it with coffee. I can’t imagine doing that with pandoro, which just seems weird to me. But the true Christmas dessert is strufoli. Did you only talk to people from the north? Strufoli is as good as it gets at Christmas.

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Five of Italy’s most magical Christmas markets in 2021

Even though Covid cases are rising in Italy, most of the country's Christmas markets will open to spread some festive cheer and fill our hearts (and bellies) with glad tidings. Here's a rundown of five of Italy's most magical Christmas markets.

The Italian Christmas markets you should put on your wish list for 2021.
The Italian Christmas markets you should put on your wish list for 2021. Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

In 2020, many Christmas markets in Italy had to close or were scaled back because of the pandemic restrictions. This year, at least at the time of writing, lots of markets are set to open in the coming weeks.

Some have safety measures in place, such as mask-wearing and the requirement to show a green pass, so remember to check the rules before you travel.

READ ALSO: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

While most of the larger and more famous Christmas markets are in the north of Italy, smaller markets and other seasonal events are held in towns and cities all over the country.

With that said, here are five of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Italy that count among our favourites.

Photo by on Unsplash

Trento, Trentino–Alto Adige

‘I mercatini di Trento’ is one of Italy’s most famous Christmas markets. Set in the northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige, which borders Austria and Switzerland, Trento is full of that mountainous frosty glee that warms the cockles of your heart.

Every year, visitors are attracted by the artisanal goods, the abundant offering of seasonal gastronomical treats and the cosy atmosphere of a historic centre decked out in twinkling lights.

More and more stalls come to Trento each year, meaning there’s always something new to see, buy and eat every time you go.

The city’s two main squares welcome visitors with their cosy lodges, where you can watch live demonstrations and listen to traditional music. And with the snow-peaked backdrop and fresh air, Trento puts on a Christmas market to remember.

Trento Christmas market runs from November 20th to January 9th.

READ ALSO: Is Italy likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

Christmas decorations on display in a market in central Bolzano. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Bolzano, South Tyrol

Another Christmas market not to be missed in the north of Italy is the spectacular display in Bolzano, arguably one of the most beautiful in Italy.

This festive extravaganza located in the region of South Tyrol is claimed to be Italy’s biggest Christmas market and, after almost two decades of the event, always has something new to delight return visitors.

New for 2021 are some stalls dedicated to grappa and beer with tastings of South Tyrolean spirits and craft beers, while for wine lovers, there’s a dedicated wine lodge offering tastings of the local labels.

Those delicious yuletide aromas of pine, cinnamon and mulled wine fill the streets, while squares are bathed in a romantic glow when the stalls come to town and transform the city into a spellbinding winter wonderland.

What better time to sample a local strudel, feast on some salty speck or indulge in some alpine homemade sweets?

The big Christmas tree in the central Piazza Walther will be lit up on Thursday November 25th to launch the market, which will remain open until January 6th.

Christmas lights during the “Luci d’Artista” (Artist’s Lights of Salerno) (Photo by MARIO LAPORTA / AFP)

Salerno, Campania

The northern mountain cities don’t claim complete ownership of Italy’s best Christmas markets, however.

One of the most eagerly awaited Christmas events can be found in the southern region of Campania: the illuminations called Luci d’artista (Artist’s Lights) in Salerno.

After being cancelled last year, the display is back for 2021 offering visitors a show of real works of art made in lights.

Due to the pandemic measures, access to the city will be restricted, especially on weekends when buses will be limited.

Strolling around the city, you can see this world-famous spectacle as you go, while also taking a tour of the Christmas markets, located on the city’s seafront. All in all, it makes for an unusually marvellous Christmas shopping experience right on the coast.

The lights will run from November 26th until January 30th.

Photo by Lynda Hinton on Unsplash

Verona, Veneto

How much more romantic and magical can you get than a Christmas market in Italy’s city of love? In fact, the market’s organisers describe Verona as, “The city of love, the city of Christmas”.

Even Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy lights up with the seasonal colours, sounds and smells. The city’s streets and squares transform into a dreamy setting for festive shopping and socialising: handicraft products in glass, wood, ceramics and many food and wine specialities tempt and delight.

The entrance to the city will be illuminated by hundreds of lights, creating what they call “a Champs Elysees effect”, continuing through all the streets of the historic centre. All the sparkles and glow are set against a backdrop of the famous Roman Arena and the unmissable Christmas star in front.

There will be more than 100 exhibitors this year and for 2021, the market will run in collaboration with the “Christkindlmarkt” of Nuremberg in Germany, bringing a heartwarming fairy-tale atmosphere to the fair city.

Verona’s Christmas market will run from November 12th to December 26th.

Photo by Christian Della Torre on Unsplash

Como, Lombardy

The lake setting and Christmas atmosphere make this a unique festive market you’ll look back on for years to come – and where better to get excited about the exchanging of Christmas gifts than Italy’s so-called city of toys ‘la città dei balocchi‘?

Starting with the Magic Light festival, its projections and lights transform the city’s building and squares into an open-air gallery. Meanwhile, delightful wooden huts create a Christmas village, offering local specialities, gifts and mouthwatering dishes.

There are also numerous refreshment and tasting points giving visitors the chance to sample menus typical of the area. And the unmissable giant ferris wheel is worth a whirl too.

If you want to work off some of those festive chocolates, waffles and gingerbread hearts, you can get your cheeks rosy at the ice rink in Piazza Cavour.

Plus, you can’t miss (literally) the traditional Christmas fir tree, illuminated by thousands of lights.

Como’s Christmas market runs from November 27th to January 6th.

Where are your favourite Christmas markets in Italy? If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below.