I miss making Christmas cookies when I was little. My mom would make the dough and then she would pull out of a cupboard what then seemed to be hundreds of metal cut-out forms. We would flatten it with rollers and then try to press as many stars and pine trees and little men as we could, then roll it out again until what was left was too small to roll. Then, aside from saving a few pieces for decorations, we would squish the rest into little balls and eat them raw.
As the cookies cooled she would then prepare colored frosting and we would layer it on. The final touches were candy buttons and colored candy sprinkles. My favorite were the hot cinnamon dots.
Then the hard part – trying not to eat them before we could show them off at the annual Christmas ever party. We could only eat the broken ones.
The breakage rate was, however, mysteriously high.
But like carving Jack O’ Lantern before Halloween, I usually find myself working and running errands until two hours before Zio Carlo’s annual Christmas Eve seafood feast. So I have to make do with traditional Italian Christmas treats: panettone, pandoro and torrone.
Pandoro, originally from Verona, is the one that children usually like the most. Large as a basketball and shaped like an upside down spinning top, this cake is a cross between and angel food and a pound cake. Just before serving you place the pandoro in a bag with powdered sugar and shake until it is covered like loose frost.
Panettone, originally from around Milan, is denser, with a stringier dough and shaped more like a mushroom. Richer and less sweet; most of sugar comes from the raisins and diced candied fruit swimming inside, although some varieties have a sugary glaze on top.
Both keep well, and are exchanged constantly at Christmas. We regularly give away at least twenty every holiday season (which here lasts through to Epiphany on January 6th), and usually receive the same.
Torrone deserve an encyclopedia of their own. In a nutshell, they are traditional candy bars, and vary widely from region to region. In Emilia and much of the north white nougat with almonds or hazel nuts are most common. Benevento is famous for torrone composed of strip of sponge cake soaked in Strega liquor sandwitched between two sticks of nougat and all of it is bathed in a layer of dark chocolate. L’Aquila is known for its fluffy almond fudge bars between two paper thin layers edible paper similar to communion bread.
The problem is that for up to a month later you have a lot of these treats hanging around. In Milan one of the best winter desserts is a slice of toasted, oven warm panettone covered in warm pastry cream filling (crema pasticciera).
So what can we do with all the panettoni, pandori and torrone that are left under the tree?
Well, eat them, of course.
(For those of you reading this on Facebook, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com)
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