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Entertaining Tips:Add a touch of Italian to your dessert table.

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by: NC
Add a touch of Italian to your dessert table (NC)?If you are invited to an Italian home this Christmas chances are you will be served panettone. Or it could be the reverse. If someone of Italian decent is invited to your home this Christmas there is a very good chance they will bring a panettone. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the traditional fruit bread of the old country.

But this is bread with flare. Not only is it packaged festively in shimmering gold wrap for the holidays, it is also shaped like a tall cake ? a bit like a chef's hat ? and its ingredients of natural yeast, eggs and butter with candied fruit and raisins, make for great diversity at holiday mealtimes.

"If you serve it on a dessert table, consider warming it in a medium oven for a few minutes and then topping it with ice cream," says John-Paul Violante, spokesperson for Motta. "You may also receive tartufone, containing chocolate drops, or Il Pandoro frosted with white sugar, all of which are a delicious dessert treat on their own or with a favourite topping.

"It is also a custom to serve panettone at breakfast or brunch during the holidays. Its naturally leavened texture makes excellent toast, or even french toast, and many people simply like the fruit bread with butter and jam. At parties it is such a symbol of celebration it may be offered while you are sipping champagne."

The panettone phenomenon started in Milan at the turn of the last century, when bakers like Angelo Motta started experimenting with natural yeast. Within a few years the combination of eggs, butter and natural yeast transformed Motta's previously dense breads, turning them soft and light. The new bread also rose much higher than expected and it is well documented that the new panettone actually created a disturbance on the streets of Milan. During the holiday season of 1921, the crowds waiting for a peak outside the Motta Bakery had to be controlled by police.

Today, no less than 292,000 kilograms (650,000 pounds) of panettone are sent to North America every year. "Do check the label however," Violante cautioned, " to make sure your purchase originates from Italy, even if the packaging appears to be Motta. There are fakes of lower quality hitting Canadian shops from places like Peru.

"Authentic panettone is comparatively low in calories," he said. "The nutritional value listed on the Motta product indicates the ratio between carbohydrates, protein and fat is well balanced. A 100g serving of panettone for example, provides fewer calories than the same weight in crackers.

"Nutritional value plays a minimal role however in our newest product, Tartufone la Pralina," Violante grinned. "La Pralina is not cake or bread at all, but is rich and dark chocolate candy. These chocolates are packaged in a slim decorative container, just the right size for a Christmas stocking ? and if you keep a few of them on hand they could make a classy little gift for unexpected guests."

- News Canada

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