Panone and Certosino are the typically baked cakes of the Bologna Christmas tradition.
Similar yet different.
Both recipes belong to the typical Northern European tradition of Christmas cakes made with dried and candied fruit.
Again, both have a rich and somewhat old-fashioned taste but, unlike what you might imagine, also a contemporary flavor.
In these recipes, you won’t find any eggs or butter.
And the taste is not sugary but rich in flavor and spice.
The traditional Bolognese Panone.
The name Panone means big bread. And it was, and still, today is a sweet, big bread.
It was the peasant version of the Certusino cake.
The Carthusian loaf originated within the walls of the Certosa Abbey in Bologna, where the monks had precious ingredients such as candied fruit and spices.
It is no coincidence that the Certosino was the spiced cake loved by the Popes of Rome.
On the contrary, there was no candied fruit in the ancient Bolognese Panone dough.
Then, over time, in-home kitchens, there was contamination between the two recipes, and after the Second World War, some people started to enrich the Panone with the ingredients of the Certosino.
Another recent mutation of the recipe is the version with eggs.
But, again, as with the Certosino, there were no eggs in the oldest Panone recipe. Both do not need this ingredient to keep the others together.
Honey and jam act as the glue.
Dorina’s recipe of the Panone.
When I met Dorina, she was already a very old lady. I don’t know how old she was.
All I know is that she looked like a fairy godmother from a fairy tale.
She was round and petite, with a bunch of silver hair tied back on her head.
She had piercing blue eyes and wore an immaculate white coat. I perfectly remember her scent of bread and good things.
She and her husband Nino were bakers and ran the bakery with Eliseo, Dorina’s brother.
An even older gentleman, he wore a blue apron and looked like a drop of water like the character created by the Italian cartoonist Altan.
Crossing the threshold of their bakery, which is now a well-known ice-cream shop in the city, was like entering a zirudella (story) with a Bolognese flavor. They expressed a Bolognese spirit and way of life that is disappearing.
Just think, Nino and Dorina didn’t take the motorway to visit a sister of her who lived in Milan but traveled from Bologna and Milan – and back – along the Via Emilia. By Fiat, of course.
Back to cakes and bread.
I used to ask Dorina a lot of questions. Before closing the bakery, she left me a large glass and metal jar for the biscuits and some recipes. Of course, she didn’t give me the weight of the individual ingredients, but it was a clue to get to work.
As for Panone, I remember her saying that it was made with honey, but she knew that some people used Saba.
I would ask her every time, year after year: “What about you, Dorina? What do you use?”
She lowered her glasses to look at me and replied ‘honey’ but accompanied her answer with a mischievous smile. And this year, when I used saba for the first time, but also balsamic vinegar, I think I can say that she probably used saba too.
Those who have tasted it say it’s my best Panone ever.
But don’t worry, use honey or balsamic if you don’t have saba.
In the method, find the right amount, to me, of honey, saba, or balsamic you need.
You can try what you prefer (the most used ingredient, also historically, is honey).
Tradition and false myths.
One last note on Panone Bolognese.
Many people think it is too sweet.
Wrong. The Panone’s prevailing scent and flavor are those of chocolate, that when cut, looks like a dark, compact, moist doughnut, rich in almonds and chocolate chopped with a knife.
Panone is traditionally rectangular. But I tried the loaf mold, and I like it cut into thin slices.
Like the Certosino cake, Panone is a cake that can be kept fresh for a long time, out of the fridge. Store it wrapped in foil in a metal box.
Buona cucina bolognese, Monica
HERE you can read the recipe and history of the Certosino of Bologna.
A masterpiece among the cakes of the gastronomic culture of the city for centuries. Pellegrino Artusi, in the pages of his book dedicated to seasonal menus, mentions it like the sweet of the Christmas banquet (together with the panforte of Siena).
What Saba is?
it is a grape syrup. It has to boil for a long time until it almost becomes a syrup.
The saba romagnola is a bit like the balsamic vinegar from Emilia and, as with balsamic vinegar, you can use saba to cook sweet and savory dishes. HERE find a recipe with saba and more informations.
Keep in Touch.
As is the custom in the bakeries of Bologna, you can cut the loaf into 2 or 4 parts and make gifts or share it with friends and family.
You can use only wine instead of milk and wine.
Panone of Bologna
for one big Panone, rectangular mold 24x20cm
for 2 smaller Panone, rectangular mold 19x15cm or loaf mold 20cm
List of the Ingredients
500g soft flour or 00 flour
200g cane sugar
100ml white wine (also sparkling)
70g dark chocolate
30g unsweetened cocoa powder
30g pine nuts
100g of mostarda bolognese or plum jam
100g whole, peeled almonds, plus almonds for decoration
12 g baking powder
50g honey or saba; 12g balsamic vinegar
50g walnuts for decoration
Salt, a generous pinch
Set aside the walnuts and some almonds for decoration.
Chop the almonds and chocolate with a knife, not too finely.
Combine all the ingredients EXCEPT the yeast and mix until smooth.
Let the dough rest for two hours, add the yeast, mix well, pour into a previously greased mold, and decorate with almonds and walnuts.
Bake in a preheated, static oven at 180C degrees for about one hour.
Leave to cool completely before brushing with a bit of water.