Why you should eat panettone for Christmas - plus the best recipes for panettone leftovers

double chocolate panettone
The mighty Italian panettone is a glorious addition to the Christmas table - especially when given the double-chocolate treatment in the recipes below Credit: James Bedford

Third-generation baker Michele Fraccaro is lost for words when I ask how busy he gets in the lead-up to Christmas. 'Crazy,’ is all he says, shaking his head with a rueful smile. 

We are at Fraccaro Spumadoro, the bakery he runs with his cousins Luca and Paolo in Castelfranco, a medieval city in northern Italy’s Veneto region. The air smells ambrosial, filled with a perfume of candied citrus peel, dried fruit, butter and sugar. These are the key ingredients in panettone, the region’s celebrated answer to Christmas cake – and the cause of all the craziness. 

The baking of panettone dates back to the Middle Ages, but its origin is the stuff of legend. The name is believed to be a shortened form of pane di Tonio (Tonio’s bread), from the story of a poor Milanese baker who invented the loaf as a dowry for his daughter after she fell in love with a nobleman. Others suggest Tonio worked for a court chef – who, with no dessert to offer at Christmas, devised a bake with all the ingredients he had available.

It takes three days to make our panettone, just as it took our fathers and our grandfather three daysLuca Fraccaro

Around us at the bakery, panettones by the hundred are in various stages of production, bound for the Christmas table. Colossal pats of butter and mounds of plump raisins are kneaded into prodigious quantities of dough. Portions of the mixture are shaped into spheres as smooth as babies’ bottoms and popped in circular cases, ready for proving. Processions of loaves emerge from the oven, to be hung upside down to cool, so their crisp, burnished domes don’t collapse.

Michele Fraccaro (centre) with his cousins Paolo (left) and Luca Credit: James Bedford

But the bakery hasn’t even hit its Christmas stride yet. By the time you read this, the workforce will have doubled, baking virtually around the clock so the prized loaves can be dispatched on time. But not even Fraccaro, one of Italy’s most respected panettone makers, can match the demand these days. The distinctive round loaf, with its rich, brioche-like crumb, is giving traditional Christmas cake a run for its money in the UK, and appearing on festive tables around the globe. 

This year, Fraccaro will produce 500,000 panettones – 30 per cent more than in 2015 – and ship them far and wide, from the UK and America to Thailand and Australia. And British fans are in for a special treat this Christmas: Fraccaro has created Panettone alla Crema di Prosecco, a luxury version with oozing pockets of creamy prosecco filling, available from Carluccio’s.

Carluccio’s prosecco panettone is boxed and tied with ribbon Credit: James Bedford

Its development is testament to the growing popularity of the product: sales of panettone at the chain have risen by 42 per cent since 2012, making it easily the most popular treat in the Yuletide goodies range. Good panettone doesn’t come cheap. Fraccaro’s prosecco variant costs £19.95 for a 900g loaf. But the cousins are committed to creating the highest possible quality, employing the same method used by their forebears Elena and Giovanni, who founded the business in 1932.

The couple began selling bread from a tiny shop beneath Castelfranco’s clock tower, expanding into a second site, and cakes and sweet treats, after the Second World War. They won acclaim for their sweet foccacia infused with 'spumadoro’ or 'golden foam’ –  a natural flavouring made to a secret recipe with Sicilian oranges, lemons and bergamots (and still used in the bakery today). 

Their 84-year-old sourdough starter – the wild yeast known as the 'mother’ – makes Fraccaro panettone especially light and flavourful

One day a customer asked if they could make panettone, at the time available only in Milan. Elena and Giovanni obliged, and the fragrant loaves quickly proved a hit. They proceeded to become the company’s signature bake. The couple’s three sons took over the business in the 1970s, expanding and relocating the bakery to its current site on the outskirts of Castelfranco. Now, Elena and Giovanni’s grandsons Michele, 59, and Luca, 51, and great-grandson Paolo, 43, run the business.

Production has increased dramatically since those early days and some of it is mechanised, but the bakery is still rooted in tradition. Michele proudly explains that he was 'born above the bread oven’, in an apartment above the original bakery. The three cousins have worked in the business since they were children, helping out during the school holidays.

Michele Fraccaro at work Credit: James Bedford

All are committed to making panettone the way Elena and Giovanni did. Michele explains that their 84-year-old sourdough starter – the wild yeast known as the 'mother’ – is what makes Fraccaro panettone especially light and flavourful. (It also helps the loaves stay fresh; a dry panettone is a sign that cheaper, industrial yeast may have been used.) The 'mother’ is fed regularly with flour and water so that it reproduces enough to make the panettone. Batches of starter are fed and left to grow in a warm room in wooden buckets lined with calico, like little beds. 

'We nurture our yeast just like my grandparents did,’ Michele says. 'Its age gives it a complex flavour, and makes our panettone unique. The character of our products, and therefore the company, depends on its quality.’

Sugar, butter, raisins and tender citrus peel are incorporated into the dough over a couple of days, to achieve a light-as-air texture. The result is left to prove for eight to 10 hours to allow the flavours to develop, then baked in brown-paper cases. 'It takes three days to make our panettone, just as it took our fathers and our grandfather three days,’ explains Luca. 

Some of the 500,000 panettones that will be produced by the Fraccaro bakery this year Credit: James Bedford

They use only top-quality ingredients. Raisins are imported from Australia 'because they are the best’. For the prosecco version, the panettones are injected with cream made from 'prosecco superiore’, top-of-the-range fizz that can only be made in the Treviso province of Veneto.

'Nonna always said she wanted to make a high-quality product, and we’ve stuck to her philosophy,’ says Luca. The result is a Christmas treat of which she would be proud. 

Panettone alla Crema di Prosecco, £19.95 for 900g, from Carluccio’s

Double-chocolate filled panettone
Panettone ripieno al doppio cioccolato
Slice a panettone, brush it with rum, and reassemble with melted chocolate for this heavenly dessert Credit: James Bedford

You can brush the panettone slices with a rum syrup before assembly, if you like.



  • 300g double cream
  • 150g white chocolate
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 500g panettone
  • 50g sugar (optional)
  • 25ml rum (optional)


Warm 150ml of the double cream in a pan. Don’t allow it to boil.

Add the white chocolate and stir until melted. Allow to cool slightly. 

Repeat in a separate pan with the remaining cream and the dark chocolate.

Cut the panettone horizontally into five slices.

If you want to add a rum syrup, warm 100ml water in a pan. Add the sugar and heat, stirring, until it dissolves completely.

Allow to cool and stir in the rum. Brush each slice of panettone with the syrup.

Reassemble the panettone, spreading the white-chocolate ganache between the slices.

Cover the whole loaf with the dark-chocolate ganache and allow to set.

Chocolate bread-and-butter panettone pudding recipe
Dolce di panettone e cioccolato
Baked layers of buttery panettone filled with raisins and melted chocolate Credit: James Bedford




  • 3 eggs, plus 4 yolks
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 450ml milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthways, or 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 50g butter, plus extra for greasing (optional)
  • 500g panettone, cut into 3cm slices
  • 70g raisins
  • icing sugar, for dusting
  • custard or cream, to serve


Preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3½.

Beat the eggs and yolks with the caster sugar until pale and creamy.

Bring the  milk and vanilla to a simmer, then pour this over the egg, whisking well. Strain the mixture into a clean bowl.

Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. (Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water.) Stir to melt.

Line a 30cm loaf tin or baking dish with a double layer of heatproof cling film, or grease with butter.

Lay panettone slices to line the base. Pour over a third of the chocolate. Scatter on a third of the raisins.

Repeat with panettone slices and a further third of the chocolate and raisins, and again with panettone and the remaining chocolate and raisins. Finish with panettone.

Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the panettone. Gently press so that it absorbs all the liquid.

Place the tin or dish in a roasting tray. Pour enough water into the tray to rise three-quarters of the way up the tin’s sides. Bake for 25 minutes.

Allow to cool in the tin.  Turn out on to a serving dish.

Warm in the oven for five minutes, then dust with icing sugar and serve with custard or cream.

Santa Claus’s dessert
Pasticcio di Babbo Natale
Whipped cream, candied peel and a splash of sweet wine transforms a panettone Credit: James Bedford




  • 250ml double cream
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 500g panettone
  • 175ml Vin Santo
  • 140g mixed chunks of thick candied peel  


Pour the double cream into a bowl with the icing sugar and beat to stiffen.

Cut the panettone into large chunks. Place them in a large serving bowl and then drizzle with the Vin Santo. Spoon the thickened double cream evenly over the chunks of panettone.