Sweet sweet Christmas … in Italy

There are many cakes that Italians love to eat in the period between December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception, and January 6th, feast of the Epiphany, and obviously there are local specialties in each region.
Lombardy is the cradle of Panettone that is, together with Pandoro, the Italian Christmas cake par excellence. The traditional Panettone is made with candied fruits, but there are many varieties such as with chocolate or with custard, and it’s still one of the Christmas symbols. But Italians are split into three fractions: those who only like Milans Panettone and those who prefer its colleague from Verona, the Pandoro (soft, vanilla-flavoured, with icing sugar), and last not least, those who try both.
Tuscany has its Panforte for Christmas, typical especially for Siena. It is much less soft then Panettone and Pandoro and prepared with candied orange, lemon, and citron pieces. When Queen Margherita long time ago visited Siena, a drysalter prepared a Panforte, covering it with a layer of vaniglia-flavoured icing sugar instead of black pepper. Senese offered it to the queen as “Panforte Margherita”, and that’s still the name of this exquisite “white” Panforte. Since a few years ago there is also a version containing dried fruit and raisins. During Christmas period, in Ferrara (Emilia-Romagna) and Terni (Umbria) a specialty called Panpepato is prepared. This cake is a combination of various ingredients such as almonds, pine nuts, and hazelnuts, black pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon, candied citrus fruit pieces, chocolate, and new wine. Walnuts and chocolate are used in many Christmas cakes and can also be combined with pasta. The owner and chef of the restaurant “Il Duca di Orvieto”, specialized in historic recipes, explains a tradition of Orvieto. Strangozzi pasta is combined with walnuts, sugar, chocolate, bread crumbs and cinnamon and then served cold when people return from the Midnight Mass at Christmas Eve.
In southern Italy, fried sweets are prepared such as Struffoli in Naples. They are maybe the most famous among the many local varieties and consist of marble-sized deep fried balls of dough covered with honey. They are then decorated with pieces of candied fruit and diavulilli (nonpareil sprinkles). Last not least, you won’t miss Torrone, soft or crunchy, when you are in Italy – in the north, center or south, no difference, Torrone is everywhere!

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