Pandoro vs panettone has always been an epic battle for supremacy at Italian Christmas dinner tables. Make no mistake, they are two holiday desserts capable of dividing a country.

Find out for yourself by asking Italian friends and relatives which of the two desserts is their favorite, and you will see that neither of them will ever emerge as a clear winner.

But we should all enjoy one (or both) of these delightful confections when they show up in the bakery shops around this time of year. Like many Italian traditions, there are a variety of conflicting legends behind them, with varying degrees of accuracy. So let’s dive into some details.

I spoke with Robert from “Stop Italian Sounding” on the podcast about this annual debate, as well as other holiday food traditions in Italy. If you want to listen to our conversation about this and other Italian Christmas traditions (including the mythical “Feast of the Seven Fishes”), then tune into the podcast on your favorite platform. 

What is Pandoro?

Pandoro is a type of Italian sweet bread that is traditionally eaten during the holiday season. It is a golden-colored bread that is soft and fluffy on the inside. (Dare I say similar to poundcake? Sacrilege!)

Pandoro is typically star-shaped, and served with a dusting of powdered sugar on top. Less often, it is served with a variety of other toppings, such as chocolate shavings or fruit.

As the story goes, it was invented by Domenico Melegatti, a popular figure in the confectionery industry in Verona during the second half of the 19th century. He patented the recipe for the cake in the shape of an eight-pointed star, inspired by the impressionist painter Angelo Dall’Oca Bianca.

What is Panettone?

Panettone is another Italian holiday bread that is traditionally served around Christmas time. The bread is light and fluffy, perhaps more like sponge cake. (Blasphemy!) It is often studded with raisins and candied fruit. Panettone is typically round in shape and has a small hole in the middle, which is said to represent the baby Jesus in the manger. (Huh?)

Another legend, which was mentioned by Robert in the podcast, centers around a chef named Antonio who was tasked to cook a meal for the Duke of Milan. Apparently distracted by his nervousness, he burnt the dessert and had to come up with a suitable alternative on the spot.

So he took some leftover ingredients from making bread, threw in some sugar, spices, and raisins… and then dubbed his new creation “Pane di Toni,” which eventually evolved into Panettone. 

panettone italian christmas tradition

Regardless of its origins, panettone has become a well-loved holiday treat in Italy and beyond. In fact, panettone has become a multi-million Euro industry. 

The export of pandoro and panettone generates revenue of over six hundred million euros. France is at the top of the countries that import these two sweets at 125 million euros, which represents 20% of these exported sweets.

Outside the EU, it is the United States that wins the title of the foreign country that consumes the most Italian panettone and pandoro, with as much as 32 million euros spent on imports annually.

Difference Between Pandoro and Panettone

The ingredients used in the traditional recipes of pandoro and panettone are more or less similar, so what distinguishes them is the processing method and the addition of some small flavor details.

Obviously everyone knows that the panettone is the dessert embellished with candied fruit and raisins while the pandoro is the one in the shape of a soft star dusted with icing sugar.

To be precise, the traditional Veronese pandoro is a sweet Italian pastry which is prepared with three processes based on sourdough, brewer’s yeast, eggs, butter, vanilla, and icing sugar.

The amalgam of ingredients requires surgical precision in dosing and leavening. This process gives life to a soft and leavened cake with golden colors and a very sweet taste as tradition dictates.

Panettone, on the other hand, is a dessert made with water, “0” flour, salt, fresh eggs, milk, butter, sugar, candied orange and citron, raisins, vanilla, and sourdough.

This dessert is also worked for many hours, altering the leavening phases and the dough phases which give life to a soft round bread with an inviting and fruit-scented appearance.

The panettone can be distinguished from the pandoro with the naked eye due to its round shape framed by a dark brown paper mold.

On the surface of the cake, brown in color, the “scarpatura” peeks out, the distinctive trait of quality panettone. It is a cross-shaped carving that the pastry chef makes before cooking and takes the form of a flower with four petals.

One important thing that they have in common: both are regulated by the Decree of July 22, 2005. Specifically, this decree was issued by the Ministry of Productive Activities and regulates the production and sale of some of the most traditional bakery confectionery products in Italy.

In this decree, panettone and pandoro are among the products for which correct information and market transparency are required.

Pandoro vs Panettone – Which one is better?

Who wins between the two desserts? Panettone remains the most exported dessert, as well as the most loved in Italy, where the most authoritative pastry shops promote their recipes close to the holidays, giving space to creativity with whimsical compositions based on local creams and fruit.

In any case, Christmas is coming to Italy and all over the world, and that means it’s time to get your holiday baking on! Both pandoro and panettone are delicious, festive cakes, but with some slight differences. 

Pandoro is a light, fluffy cake that’s dusted with sugar, while panettone is a denser, fruitier cake. If you’re looking for a cake to enjoy with your morning coffee, pandoro is the way to go. But if you want something to serve with a dessert wine or after a big meal, then opt for panettone. 

Buon appetito e buone feste!

Rick Zullo

Former doctor, current science teacher, and life-long food lover, Rick's passion for Mediterranean cuisine was ignited while living as an expat in Rome, Italy. 


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