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

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
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?
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Panettone was originally made in Milan.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.
 

 

 
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”.
 
 
And of course there are plenty of other Italian Christmas desserts out there to try.
 

 
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.
 
 

 
 
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.
 

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  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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