Making Panettone: Christmas at Ciccio’s in Ostuni

It’s Christmas cake – Italian style. Panettone, a sweet Milanese dome-shaped cake made with butter, eggs, sugar, candied fruits and raisins, dates back to the fifteenth century.

Panettone is completely different to the traditional fare we all enjoy during the Christmas season in other parts of the world. In the US, it’s pumpkin pie that’s on the menu, whereas in Ireland – where I lived for most of my life before moving to Italy – and the UK, it’s feel-good, fruit-filled cakes and puddings, liberally soaked in whiskey or brandy. These heavy puddings are strictly a seasonal treat enjoyed by all and usually a prelude to an evening with the family, either in front of the television watching Christmas movies, or playing a competitive game of Monopoly.

There are many stories told about the origin of Panettone, this light delicious cake, but it is mainly accepted that the word ‘panettone’ is a combination of two words, ‘panetto’ and ‘one’ which means a large bread.

There are numerous legends surrounding the origins of this fragrant cake. One is that it was invented by a chef by the name of Toni, in other words ‘pan del Toni’, which was given by many Italian nobles to their love-interests. Another is that the ‘pan del Toni’ was attributed to Toni, a hapless cook at the court of Duke Ludovico Sforza. Toni managed to overcook the panettone, whereby a crust was formed, which proved to be a popular mistake.

Today’s panettone dates back to the nineteenth century when a chef by the name of Paolo Biffi made a giant panettone for Pope Pius IX and sent it to Rome in a specially constructed carriage.

Panettone is baked in a ‘cupola’ shape, narrower at the top than at the bottom. It is usually baked with raisins and candied fruit, but is also available with chocolate chips instead of fruit and can be smothered in chocolate or orange icing or with mandorlato (nougat) made from sugar and almonds.

Eat it with your morning cappuccino or for your after-dinner dessert with a sweet wine, or bring one as a gift when visiting friends and relatives over the Christmas season. They are always beautifully packaged and look wonderfully festive.

Panettone with mandorlato topping

All over Italy, bakeries produce millions of panettone cakes every Christmas.

This year I was lucky enough to be able to gain access to the kitchens of famous Pasticceria Da Ciccio in Ostuni.

It’s a family affair. Ciccio and his wife Angela, daughters Mina and Isabella are all involved.

Ciccio Capriglia himself welcomed me in his usually friendly fashion and introduced me to the art of making panettone, which he has been doing for more than forty years.

A large machine, its drum filled with a bright yellow combination of flour, butter, eggs and sugar was busily beating the mixture. The air was fragrant with the smells of baking and the many staff bustled around with high metal trolleys groaning with both hot and pre-cooked pastries. I tried to keep out of everyone’s way as I focused my camera lens on the action.

Adding butter, sugar and dark orange-coloured eggs from a carton, the mixture rotated and grew.

Ciccio then emptied a vast tray of plump rum-soaked raisins into the mix.

More rotating and beating. Then Ciccio began to lift the mixture into two large plastic drums. These drums were then put in a warming oven to allow the mixture to rise.

Later on, this mixture was spread on a worktop, cut up, weighed, rolled into balls and placed in large paper cups.

Into the oven and ready to cook.

Returning later in the afternoon, the oven door was opened and the freshly baked panettone was brought out, spread on a long table and hung upside down, all at high speed as, if it is not turned upside down and left for more than a few minutes in its cup, it can become soggy and no panettone from Ciccio’s can ever possibly be soggy!

I can personally vouch for the deliciousness of the panettone from Pasticceria Da Ciccio in Ostuni, as can my friend Anna, yet another of Ciccio’s daughters, who just can’t resist it!

Orna O’Reilly

Ostuni, Italy

16 thoughts on “Making Panettone: Christmas at Ciccio’s in Ostuni

  1. Happy Monday, Orna. What fun to get this behind-the-scenes look, the better to get into the Christmas mood. In the US, most of the turkey eating seems to be done at Thanksgiving, but none of us are huge turkey fans. For almost every year since I learned to make ravioli, the request has been for ravioli for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter, with the fabulous walnut sauce that the Italian grandmother of the chef made in Italy. I make one batch filled with meat and another with artichoke.

    This year, as I’m working part time and fairly busy, I may not be making ravioli, but there will be lots of goodies. This sounds like an excellent addition to all the German goodies I’ve been stocking up on from Aldi and those I’ll be making.

    I hope the two of you are doing wonderfully and enjoying getting ready for Christmas.


    • Ravioli for Christmas is a new one for me! Highly unusual, but undoubtedly delicious. We are having a traditional Christmas this year with friends. Turkey and all the trimmings. It’s nice for us to occasionally eat Irish/English/American style food….not our usual fare any more. Have a wonderful Christmas Janet and I hope 2018 will be wonderful. Orna

    • Nice idea to make ravioli. My family usually makes manicotti (with the crespelle shells). They are so labor intensive this is the one time of year my kids can convince me to make them! For the primo. For the secondo, we have red meat, but not turkey – although we love turkey and eat the left overs all week, a special turkey dinner once a year at Thanksgiving is enough for us, too!

  2. Wow, that giant panettone looks delicious! i have been experimenting with making my own panettone at home, but unlike Ciccio i only made 1-2 at a time. i hung mine upside down to cool too-stuck 2 bamboo knitting needles through the base and hung it over a stock pot! Buon Natale, Cristina

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