Italian Christmas bread is meticulously prepared and deep rooted in tradition. Generally, Italy is a country tied to its traditions, as well as to its Christian roots. Religion has always played a major role also on food. And the making of different types of Christmas bread (both sweet and savory) is certainly first and foremost. Each region has its own typical and famous delights, handed down from generation to generation and often very easy to prepare.
The idea of leavening, such as the expectation of cooking together with families are symbols of Christmas Italian cooking. Hence the meticulous preparation of Christmas bread, with the classic dough made with yeast, then cooked like a braid and decorated with Christmas motifs always made of bread dough. It's then served and eaten during lunch on December 25, accompanying the typical dishes of the day.
From the classic salty dough, sweet different variations were invented throughout the centuries, some of which were mainly created to satisfy the greed of the noble families. The first recipe for sweet Italian Christmas bread comes from poor tradition, and obtained by adding crushed nuts, dried figs and chocolate, making a homogeneous dough, which is then cooked and allowed to stand for tasting a few days after its preparation.
This recipe is similar to that of the famous "Panettone", born in Milan but the main Christmas cake of the whole Italy. In addition to its soft and rich dough, its particularity is its unmistakable dome shape. Ingredients are very simple: flour, eggs, milk, sugar flavored with raisins and candied fruit. Making this cake is not complicated, but it takes long leavening times.
The origins of Panettone (literally "Pan del Toni") tell that this tasty bread was born out of love. A recipe was invented by accident by Messer Ughetto of Atellani to woo baker's daughter. So he tried to knead this bread cake that was a great success.
Similar to the Panettone is "Pandoro". This sweet Italian Christmas bread from Verona is star-shaped, made with white flour, vanilla, butter, eggs, milk and sugar and dusted with powdered sugar. The name "Pan de Oro" (bread of gold) is because white bread cost a lot and was consumed only by the wealthy Venetian families. Pandoro can be filled with whipped cream or ice cream.
From Genoa comes "Pandolce" (sweet bread) is a crumbly Christmas bread filled with spices and candied fruits. Legend tells that the 16th-century Doge of Genoa, Andrea Doria, invited chefs from Genoa to submit recipes for a food that would represent Republic's wealth, nutritious and suitable for long sea voyages.
"Panforte" is a Christmas sweet from Siena. Despite name, this is not really a bread at all. It's a typical cake from Siena, which has very ancient origins. It's a variant of the spicy "Panpepato" (a heavy gingerbread cake spiced with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, nuts, dark chocolate, honey, candied fruit and white pepper), without the addition of pepper (replaced with vanilla). It's a chewy, dense fruitcake, heavily flavored with ingredients such as cloves, honey, cinnamon and coriander.