I’m not big on the winter holidays, but over the last couple of years, compelled by the magical Massari panettone that my ever-generous friend Anna turned me on to, I have fully embraced Christmas cakes.
I used to think panettone was a dry, flavorless pincushion filled with weirdly colored bits that looked and tasted like plastic — and that’s because so many are. But good panettone might as well be a whole other phylum unto itself. Good panettone has a tender, feathery crumb, maybe with a slight pleasantly sugary edge to it, like a non-cloying cotton candy, and the extended proofing of the yeasted dough gives it a lovely toasty complexity. The candied and confited fruit taste fresh. Because they are.
This year, we may have gone a little overboard. In addition to the three panettoni on the left (from Eataly) and right (which Marisa hand-carried all the way from Padova) in the photo above, we also had a panbriacone (thanks again, Anna!), which is a liqueur-soaked panettone, and the Lekerlee lebkuchen. We only just finished the last panettone last week (and every year, I wonder how they have such a long shelf-life; for now I prefer it to remain a mystery), which was the red-boxed chocolate-and-cherry one. Texture was okay, but I thought it tasted like cough syrup. The Alajmo and Cova (just below) ones were top-notch.
The panbriacone (above) had a remarkably moist crumb and good flavor overall, but I think I’m too much of a lightweight to have more than a sliver of it. The alcohol was a serious punch in the face. (Alex polished off the rest.) Having now had these, plus the Emporio Rulli one last year, I can still say that Massari is still the gold standard. Get your hands on one if you can. And then be sure to ship it to me immediately.
How have I never had lebkuchen before? I was worried that this was going to be all style and no substance (admittedly, half the reason I shelled out for these was the tin, which was very well done — and a good place to store dog treats once it’s been emptied of lebkuchen), but the gingerbready spice cake was so delicious. I had the variety pack, which included one or two chocolate-covered ones. I didn’t think the chocolate was necessarily an improvement, though it wasn’t a detraction either. Chocolate or no, these are a new favorite.
This year, Carl introduced us to English-by-way-of-California Christmas cake. I went on a shopping spree at Bi-Rite when we were in the Bay Area over Thanksgiving and picked up Robert Lambert’s dark and white fruitcakes and June Taylor’s Christmas cake. Turns out super precious fruitcake made by hand from perfectly ripe, locally grown California produce is, yes, really fucking good. I would eat any of them again. And in fact, we are still hoarding the RL dark.
On the docket for next year: make my own fruitcake and get someone to make me a bûche de Nöel.