Italian Christmas Delicacies
From decorations to activities every country has its own special traditions when it comes to Natale (Christmas!) Below we have shared with you a few of Italy’s festive delights…
A quintessential Italian Christmas cake, panettone is now found in households worldwide over the festive season. The dome-shaped sweet bread contains a delicious mix of candied orange, raisins and lemon zest. At this time of the year, it is customary for families to gift panettone from one to another as the fruits within are seen as tokens of good fortune. The traditional process of making panettone requires more than two whole days for natural fermentation, proofing and baking the dough, as well as a resting period. The tasty creation is then served often with a dollop of mascarpone or chocolate sauce and a coffee or preferably a glass of prosecco!
A relatively easy dessert to make in comparison to Panettone is Panforte. Panforte is a chewy dense Tuscan fruitcake that contains fruit and nuts, not to mention spices, honey and almonds. There are two main variations of this speciality, nero and bianco. The bianco style as we know it originated in 1879 during Queen Margarite of Savoy’s visit to Siena. To suit the female palette, the master of ceremonies prepared a lighter version of the heavily spiced and cocoa topped panforte nero by using candied fruit and a layer of icing sugar.
Torrone is Italy’s version of nougat, a mixture of honey, sugar and almonds that was already popular in Roman times. Needless to say, akin to most Italian delicacies, each region adapts the standard recipe by adding ingredients ranging from pistachio to lemon to coffee. There are two distinct versions of the ‘classic’ torrone from Cremona: friabile, the hardstyle, bakes for up to ten hours; while morbido, the soft style, doesn’t exceed three hours. A confectionary to enjoy post-meal, torrone is always found around Italian holiday tables.
A somewhat more recent tradition, a deep-fried Neapolitan delicacy, struffoli are light and delicate. Around this season you can often see them in bakery windows piled into a Christmas tree shape or large pyramids. Struffoli are now a favourite amongst the younger generation, the sweet treats are often decorated with coloured sprinkles and flavoured with honey, but the original Neapolitan recipe calls for anise liquor!
Crunchy and nutty, amaretti biscuits are a classic Christmas gift that come beautifully wrapped and packaged. Fable says that in 1719 a cardinal from Milan made a surprise visit to a Saronno church. A young couple, who owned a bakery, wanted to present him with a baked good so they created these biscuits from the limited ingredients that they had available – ground apricot kernels, sugar and egg whites. Amaretti that hail from Lombardy still contain apricot kernels but almonds are more commonly used. Therefore, the little rounded delights which get their name from the Italian words amaro meaning ‘bitter’ and etti adding ‘little things’ are anything but bitter. Their smell is as lovely as the lingering almond flavour that these melt in the mouth biscuits leave.