The holiday season is upon us. There is nothing more comforting to me than the traditions that come with this time of year. Call me boring, a stick in the mud, a conformist but I remain loyal to the classics: mistletoe, O Come All Ye Faithful, peppermint stick ice cream, beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner.
Naturally, the Italians have their own traditions and it was delightful to spend the holidays in another country and experience a whole new way of celebrating. There are many beautiful traditions in Italy – the creche, magnificent store windows, living nativity scenes throughout the countryside and all sorts of culinary delights.
As the weather turns cold, I find myself waxing nostalgic for the most telling sign of the arrival of the Christmas season: pandoro and panettone. These buttery Christmas cakes come in gorgeous cardboard boxes and wrappings and can be found in any food shop or bar in Italy from the beginning of December on. Panettone is studded with candied fruit while pandoro is a plain cake dusted with powdered sugar.
When I studied in Florence, I arrived at my host family’s house in the middle of January. There was a tower of panettone and pandoro boxes stacked in the corner of the kitchen. Apparently these Christmas cakes are the Italian answer to a housewarming gift and my family had obviously hosted a LOT of holiday parties. We ate a lot of pandoro that first month – breakfast, dessert and snacks – and while I had my fill of them at the time, I still love the buttery, simple flavor with a cup of coffee. You can imagine my delight when I found miniature cakes at my local Italian cafe this week! The pandoro is made in a star shaped pan but if you cut it horizontally, you can make it look like a Christmas tree. I scooped up three of them and made a cute, edible centerpiece that made our kitchen table look very festive.
Unfortunately, the centerpiece did not remain on the table very long. It seems that Bella the hound is also a big fan of pandoro.
Leave me a comment and let me know how you are incorporating traditions into your celebrations this year.