It’s hard to tell if you’re in the presence of a great panettone until you cut into it. (And if you don’t believe there is such a thing as great panettone, read on.)
Inside, a great panettone has a creamy yellow crumb, scented with citrus and rich enough to leave your fingers lightly buttered when you pull off a bite. Here are ways to improve the odds of finding a good one.
Some top bakeries in the United States make traditional panettone every year at Christmastime, though quantities are limited: Cossettas in Minneapolis, Emporio Rulli in Larkspur, Calif., Settepani and Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City and Bread & Salt in Jersey City, N.J. The San Francisco bakery From Roy produces panettone year-round.
Beyond that, the rule of thumb for buying panettone is the same as buying most packaged food: the fewer ingredients, the better.
By Italian law, a classic fruit panettone labeled “Made in Italy” must contain flour, sugar, eggs (and additional egg yolks), a high proportion of butter and candied citrus. But it is also allowed to contain ingredients like cocoa butter, milk, malt syrup, “natural flavors” and certain emulsifiers, stabilizers and preservatives. The fewer of those, the better your panettone is likely to be.
Panettone made elsewhere, like Bauducco from Brazil or D’Onofrio from Peru (with candied papaya), isn’t subject to the Italian laws. Chocolate panettone is also a (delicious) free-for-all.
Panettone can be cut in wedges like a cake, or cut in half from top to bottom, then in even slices. Even without preservatives, naturally leavened panettone lasts, kept well wrapped, for a full month. Sliced panettone can be wrapped and frozen. And stale panettone makes fantastic bread pudding and French toast.