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Panettone or pandoro: Which is the best Italian Christmas cake?

If you think Italy's two most famous Christmas cakes are fairly similar, think again. What's the difference? Why are people in Italy so divided in the great cake debate? And which one, really, is the best?

Panettone or pandoro: Which is the best Italian Christmas cake?
Pandoro and panettone are both classic Italian Christmas desserts, but which do you prefer? File photo: AFP

Both panettone and pandoro are well-known Italian Christmas cakes – though they’re not just eaten on the day itself, but enjoyed throughout December and into January.

With their cute packaging, plus luxury or miniature versions available from many bakeries, they make a perfect gift for friends and family.

READ ALSO: The food and drink you need for an Italian Christmas feast

But you may want to check first whether the person you’re giving the cake to is on team pandoro or team panettone, as many people in Italy have developed a strong preference for one or the other.

This can become a serious dilemma in many Italian families, and the only acceptable solution, of course, is to buy one of each.

The two cakes can look pretty similar to the uninitiated – so what are the differences?

Panettone, originally made in Milan, has a distinctive dome-shaped top and traditionally contains citrus peel and raisins or candied fruit – though all kinds of variations are available, from chocolate to limoncello and cream. The dough contains yeast and is cured in a similar way to sourdough – it needs to be left rise three times before being baked. 

Pandoro, which originated in Verona, is taller and star-shaped. Pan d’oro means ‘golden bread’, and the vanilla-scented cake gets its yellow colour from the eggs in the batter. It’s light, airy, and plain, and is usually dusted liberally with icing sugar before serving.

Panettone (top right) in an Italian bakery. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
When The Local asked readers on Twitter which they preferred, there were some very strong opinions from both sides voiced by Italians and non-Italians alike.
“Pandoro is just too bland for my tastes, maybe I’ve never found the right one. However, I’m curious why they are such an inconvenient shape – too tall for cake boxes & kitchen cupboards!” wrote George Young.
“Pandoro all the way!” said Sarah. “So light and fluffy. Panettone is just another stodgy fruitcake, every country has those and doesn’t really eat them anymore.”
People often ask which cake is really best and, while everyone would answer that question differently, we did conduct an unscientific Twitter poll to find out which is most popular.

Panettone came out the clear winner with 61.5 percent of the vote, while pandoro got 33.5 percent.

Five percent said they’d have something else, while several laid-back respondents commented that they’d happily eat either or both.

While you might expect the Milanese to be the biggest panettone fans, some (quietly) admitted that they actually prefer pandoro.

And residents of Verona reminded us not to forget about the nadalin, pandoro’s “humble ancestor”.

“The name means “little Christmas” in Veronese dialect. According to tradition, it was created in the 13th century to honour the Scaligeri, lords of Verona,” tweeted the language teachers at My Italian Circle.
The way you serve your chosen cake might make all the difference, however.

While some dessert lovers admitted to giving up on cutting slices out of their cakes and simply tearing off chunks with their hands, others described a more sophisticated approach.

Angelo Boccato recommended pandoro with the addition of Chantilly cream, while describing panettone as “significantly overrated”.

Alice Mulhearn Williams said: “Pandoro is great with lemony mascarpone for dessert, but it doesn’t have the versatility of panettone when it comes to leftovers…trifle, bread & butter pud, french toast, fried in butter and served with baked apples.” 

However, think carefully before serving creative Christmas desserts to Italian guests. One Italian in London recalled numerous “artery-clogging pandoro tiramisu abominations” brought to New Years’ Eve parties, which they described as “traumatic”.

Though panettone and pandoro are by far the most famous, they’re far from the only Christmas cakes you’ll find in Italy.

If you’d like to try even more Italian desserts over the holidays, here’s more on the most delicious Christmas cakes from around the country.

Member comments

  1. In my family, panettone was breakfast food. We would gild the lily with butter, and have it with coffee. I can’t imagine doing that with pandoro, which just seems weird to me. But the true Christmas dessert is strufoli. Did you only talk to people from the north? Strufoli is as good as it gets at Christmas.

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Is Italy’s public transport running over Christmas and New Year?

If you're spending key dates over Christmas and New Year in Italy, can you expect to find trains and other transport services operating? Here's what you need to know.

Is Italy's public transport running over Christmas and New Year?

Question: My family are spending the holidays in Italy, and we’re wondering what sort of public transport services will be in place. I know we should expect a reduced timetable, but will some services still be up and running?

At any time of year, the quality and frequency of public transport services in Italy varies significantly between rural and urban areas, as well as between cities.

Areas that are usually poorly served by just the occasional bus could have an even more reduced service over the holidays – and you may well not be able to find out the revised schedule in advance.

That said, parts of the country that already have relatively robust public transport networks tend to keep them fairly active over the Christmas period.

Even on Christmas day itself, you’ll find the tens of high speed and regional trains that provide daily connections between major Italian cities and small towns running pretty much on a standard timetable.

Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Local public transport services are somewhat reduced, but don’t shut down entirely, as they do in some parts of the world.

In Rome, all bus, tram and metro services should run as normal on Christmas Eve until 9pm, with night buses kicking in from 11pm; as well as from 8:30am-1pm and 4.30pm-9pm on Christmas day.

On New Year’s Eve, buses and trams are scheduled to run until 9pm and the metro until 2.30am, with a few dedicated bus lines in place to take people to and from metro stops.

READ ALSO: How to make the most of a Christmas break in Rome

In Naples, it’s currently hoped that bus, metro and funicular services will run throughout the day on December 25th and January 1st, with the metro and funicular staying open until 2am on both dates – subject to operator Anm reaching an agreement with workers.

While Italy has been hit with a series of transport strikes over the past few months, there’s not much chance of major strike action being announced over Christmas.

That’s because Italian law bans unions from organising strikes which could impact the air travel sector – so general strikes and transport sector strikes are out – on certain busy travel dates (known as periodi di franchigia, or ‘exemption periods’). These include December 18th to January 7th, as well as much of August.

Some cities haven’t yet released their holiday timetables, but previous years give an indication of what you can expect.

In Milan last year, buses were operational from 7am-7.30pm on Christmas day, with night buses cancelled on the nights of 24th-25th and 25th-26th. New Year’s Eve operated on a Saturday timetable, with night buses running as normal.

Tram in Milan's city centre.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Bus services in Florence last year ran on a reduced holiday schedule until 1pm on Christmas day, on a normal timetable until 9pm on New Year’s Eve, and operated on a holiday timetable on December 26th and January 1st, 2nd and 6th.

The city’s trams ran on a slightly reduced schedule (every 10 minutes instead of every 5-6 at peak times) on Christmas Eve, Christmas day and New Year’s Eve, but ran until 2am on the three days.

If you’re in Rome over the Christmas period this year, you’re in luck: the city council are expanding the public transport services and have offered several free transport days for the month of December. 

On December 24th, all public transport around the city will be free.

And until January 8th, three new bus lines providing shuttle services from city car parks to the centre – ‘Free 1’, ‘Free 2’ and the 100 service – will also be free.

The move is part of an initiative by mayor Roberto Gualtieri to reduce traffic in the city centre over the busiest parts of the season.