Panettone: the Traditional Italian Holiday Fruitcake

Fruitcake is a holiday tradition throughout the world that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Panettone, the Italian version of fruitcake, is a delicious alternative to the fruitcake that most Americans know and often dislike, due to its airy texture and sweet flavor. Traditional panettone is a light, sweet bread studded with raisins and the candied lemon and orange peels. It is cooked in a cylindrical paper, resembling a large muffin once the top rises.

Like most Italian traditions, panettone comes with a long history. Sweet bread in Italy dates back to the ancient Roman times, but panettone as its known today originates from Milan.

Panettone: the Traditional Italian Holiday Fruitcake, Italian christmas cake, panettone recipe, italian food culture, study abroad in Rome, italyThere are several legends regarding the origin of panettone, but the most common dates back to the 15th century. According to the story, a man fell in love with Toni, a baker’s daughter. To win her heart and earn her father’s acceptance, he created a bread recipe that included dried and candied fruits, and named his creation “pane de Toni,” or Toni’s bread. Another legend tells the story of a kitchen’s hand who saved the Sforza family’s dessert-less Christmas banquet disaster by baking a sweet bread. Of course, the kitchen’s hand was also named Toni.

Regardless of its origins, panettone remains a part of the Christmas season in many Italian households. Bring a little slice of Italy to your family’s holiday traditions by trying out our panettone recipe!

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
¼ cup white sugar
2 eggs
½ cup plain yoghurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. grated lemon zest
¼ tsp. salt
4 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup dried currants
¼ cup raisins
1 tbsp. confectioners sugar
1 tbsp. melted butter


  1. In a medium bowl, combine yeast, water and sugar. Cover and let stand 10 minutes, or until foamy. Add eggs, yogurt, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Mix well. Stir in flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough forms into a manageable ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary, until dough is soft and pliable, but not sticky. (May need up to 5 cups flour.) Place dough in a large, lightly pan-sprayed bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and spray a round 8-inch cake pan with non-stick spray. In a small bowl, toss dried fruit with confectioners’ sugar. Punch down dough in bowl, transfer to floured surface, and knead in the fruit.
  3. Form dough into a ball, place in prepared cake pan, cover loosely with dish towel, and let rise 30 minutes. (Loaf will rise above the pan sides.) Brush with melted butter, if desired. Bake for 45 minutes, or until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes 10 wedges.

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