As an Italian-American I have tasted a lot of imported Panettone. This Christmas cake is a standard in the Italian-American home during the holidays, just as it is in Italy. The difference is that there are very few American bakers who attempt the difficult and labor-intensive process. So we eat Panettone from Italy… which by the time it arrives to us is usually dry, somewhate tasteless and better for french toast or bread pudding than for anything else… Thanks to Claudio Volpini at the Gran Caffe Vascello in Roma, what I discovered last night was a Panettone Revelation.
As soon as you walk into the Gran Caffe Vascello in Rome’s hillside Gianicolo neighborhood, you realize you’re someplace special. The cases are loaded with sweet delicacies- chocolate, pistachio, cream and golden pastry everywhere. We enjoyed a slice of pizza with a glass of prosecco while standing at the counter and it was simply perfect. Hot, spiked with the perfect amount of tomato sauce and oozing with a little mozzarella. I could have stood there all night and enjoyed this pizza alone- the crust was so delicate and crispy with just the right amount of toothsome chew. It was clear right then that the proprietor Claudio is a master baker and chef.
I have Domenico Basile to thank for this discovery- he and his family live in an apartment close by, and he had invited us to stop in for a glass of wine before dinner. Domenico and his family operate a lovely winery in Montecucco where they craft sangiovese- based wines with organically-farmed fruit. Apparently Claudio has fallen in love with these wines, too.
As Domenico tells it, Claudio doesn’t really drink, with the exception of Domenico’s “Cartacanta” wine. This wine has inspired in him a version of Panettone that will change everything. Soft and puffy, studded with candied orange peel and raisins, and then filled with a luscious pastry cream flavored with Cartacanta wine. I also loved the generous slather of chocolate-sprinkle-dotted white icing. In this case, too much of a good thing really isn’t.
*I am officially a Panettone convert, and I am now determined to taste every version of this cake I can find while I am in Italy. Suggestions are welcome in the comments below.*
The particular Panettone we enjoyed after dinner at Domenico’s house was also adorned with a typical Italian nativity scene, or “presepe“, lit up by a clever, battery-operated string of blue lights.
If that doesn’t get you into the holiday spirit, I don’t know what will.
Grazie, Domenico e Claudio. Buon Natale!