We have a new holiday tradition at my house, starting yesterday: Sant Ambroeus’s panettone. It is a big, goofy-looking dome-shaped confection native to Milan, and baked to fluffy perfection by the New York outpost of Sant Ambroeus, Milan’s quintessential pastry and coffee gathering spot. Sliced for dessert after dinner, polished off with coffee the next morning, the panettone—feather-light and flecked with not-too-sweet candied citrus and raisins—slipped into and out of our lives all too swiftly. Friends of ours save a slice or two to make French toast; ours never made it.
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Having spent a month in my youth fund-raising by selling door-stopper-weight, southern fruitcake door-to-door —and consequently eating about 30 pounds of it myself—I am something of an expert on the stuff and miraculously, not at all a hater. But panettone, at least in this version, is on a whole ‘nother plane of pleasure. If you haven’t tasted it, you haven’t really tasted anything like it.
The Sant Ambroeus panettone is not a modest-sized article—weighing in at two pounds, each $36 dome will yield 8-10 appreciable slices—but the concentrated mass of the thing, or lack of it, is extraordinary: you darn near need to tether it to your counter. Somewhere between a brioche-y type bread and a cake in texture, it is an exercise in Old World subtlety, downright un-American in its refusal to be rich, sugar-saturated or tooth-bluntingly dense. Its attractions grow on you as you eat, rather than assault you on first bite.
From its birthplace in Milan, panettone is a Christmas and New Year’s staple all over Italy and South America. And now at my place in Brooklyn, New York.