I know I’m going to get some pushback on this from Chocolate Babka fanatics, and they make a strong argument, but for me the pinnacle of Western Civilization is Panettone. Specifically, Panettone with Chocolate Chip and Coffee Cream Filling.
What about famous works of art, you ask. The Sistine Chapel? The Mona Lisa? The Ninth Symphony? They are all supreme examples of human accomplishment, but do you doubt that Michelangelo or Leonardo or Beethoven wouldn’t have abandoned them for even a small bite of chocolate panettone? They would have jumped at the chance. “Mona, come over here, you gotta taste this.” Surely this is the reason for her famous smile.
Panettone is a dessert cake created in the place where all good things come from, Italy, in this case, Milan. It is triple baked to give it a light and airy texture, and often contains candied fruits and raisins. But it is the substitution of the fruits and raisins with chocolate chips and coffee cream that takes it from the sublime to the supreme. When the original baker first tasted it, it is not hard to image a chorus of angels surrounded her and sang hosannas, and then grabbed a few mouthfuls. It is possible they even fought over it.
Cruelly, panettone is available only during the holiday season. It’s only fitting that something so spectacular is available for such a short time, lest it overwhelm us with its perfection, like Celine Dion’s voice. We would also gain too much weight if it were available year-round, as panettone is, in legal terms, irresistible. There are no leftovers, nothing to have in the morning, not even a crumb too small for a Who’s mouse.
The Milanese, in their wisdom, know that panettone is too powerful to exist for more than six or so weeks of the year, and that its distribution must be carefully controlled. I imagine their bakeries are monitored by a special Panettone Polizia force that looks for unusually large deliveries of candied fruits. The Scar Pier bakery, the one that baked the Panettone with Chocolate Chips and Coffee Cream Filling I had, should be singled out for special attention, as the ne plus ultra of panettone, of cuisine, art, and human expression.
The Italians, they move on after the last panettone is eaten, and so should we. Gelato is almost as good, and it’s possible to limit oneself to one gelateria visit a day. Okay, two. La dolce vita comes in many flavors.
Illustration by Isabella Bannerman