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I didn’t realize how polarizing panettone could be until this post two weeks ago. “A joyless mass of dry cake polluted with unpleasant bits of dried fruit”? Harsh words from the Guardian. I’ve always been a fan of panettone, but especially when fresh—and a number of commenters seem to agree.

Now, “fresh panettone” may seem oxymoronic. This sweet Milanese bread, especially popular for breakfast (or snacking, or dessert) around Christmastime, usually comes in colorful boxes of ambiguous age and origin. You’re likely to stumble across them in the discount bin at Marshalls. And even the bakeries that bake their own panettone wrap them snugly in plastic and plop them in that big old box. Plus, they’re always cooled completely, à la angel-food cake—you can’t buy a panettone warm from the oven. At Grandaisy Bakery, they cool for a minimum of five hours.

Given all this, there may not seem much point to fresh-baked panettone. But if you find the right bakery, the difference is incredible.

Grandaisy Bakery

20081219grand.jpgI’ve tasted panettone from both Grandaisy Bakery and its close cousin (long story) Sullivan Street Bakery this year. Similar though most items in the two bakeries are, it was the Grandaisy panettone that blew me away.

It’s baked in the store, with brand-new batches on the shelves each day. “Are these fresh?” I asked the girl at the counter. “Of course,” she replied. “But if you want really, really fresh, I’ll get you one that just finished cooling!” And she scurried into the back to hand-wrap a panettone. Now that’s service.

20081219interior.jpgPanettone detractors call the bread dry and crumbly, but Grandaisy’s isn’t: the interior is tender and light, almost silky, like a brioche or even a non-eggy challah. Standard panettone throws in hard fruit bits as a decorative afterthought, but Grandaisy does much more: the raisins are juicy and pop in your mouth, while the citron bits are worth picking out and eating alone. There’s none of the inch-thick sugar crust that weighs down packaged panettone. And made with a touch of honey, Grandaisy’s bread is sweet and appealing—the kind of communal treat sitting on your coffee table that you grab a little piece of, and then another, and then tell yourself “No! That’s all!” while reaching to rip off a bigger hunk and before you know it, goodbye panettone. (Not that I speak from experience.)

This all refers to a still-fresh panettone, unwrapped that day. Even the finest bread dries out quickly. But toasted and buttered, or fried into French Toast, a good panettone can be revived. My favorite day-old remedy: slice it thick, pop into the toaster oven, and dunk into a steaming bowl of café au lait. There’s no better Christmas morning breakfast.

Grandaisy Bakery
73 Sullivan Street, New York NY 10012 (map) 212-334-9412

76 West 72nd Street, New York NY 10023 (map)
646-274-1607

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