Every year in the lead-up to New Years, I buy panettone. Not just one of the golden-topped Champagne-cork-shaped breads—many of them. Which I then devour with glasses of fizzy moscato or keemun tea. But this year, quite by accident, I bought the panettone of a lifetime. Good thing too because it cost a whopping $60. Sixty dollars for a loaf of bread!
I rationalized away the expense. Panettone comes but once a year. Apart from wine, I don’t have any other indulgences. Maybe this would be the best panettone I’ve ever had. (It was).
Panettone is an Italian sweet bread in a cupola shape. Traditionally from Milan and made as a Christmas specialty, it is studded with candied fruit and citrus zest. During the holidays, it’s obligatory as an accompaniment for moscato d’Asti the sweet, gently frizzante Italian wine.
The panettone I stumbled on was being sold at a holiday fair in the Napa Valley where I live. The box said it was famous, and was from Roy.
I’d never heard of Roy. Roy didn’t sound remotely Italian. But a quick Google search turned up a New York Times article entitled “The Panettone That Big Chefs Can’t Get Enough of.” (Now, me either).
Roy is pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel who has a virtual luxury bakery called From Roy in Los Gatos, California. According to the Times piece, after graduating from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), Roy vowed he’d work for Ferran Adrià (of El Bulli), Thomas Keller (of The French Laundry) and Pierre Hermé, the great French pastry chef. Logically, the other students snickered.
I guess they aren’t snickering now. Roy managed to work for all three plus the great Italian panettone expert Iginio Massari. Going to Milan to learn from Massari how to make panettone is a little like going to heaven to learn from God how to pray.
So what’s so good about Roy’s panettone? It’s springy and spongey, rather than dry. (He uses his own natural yeast starter). It’s moist and rich, yet feathery-light at the same time. The fruits inside do not taste like stale, sugar-laden, dried fruits that have been sitting in a candy store for a year. Indeed, the balance of the buttery dough and the fruit is exquisite.
You can buy Roy’s Panettone on his website here. Normally, I’d say order it now because you’ll have a whole year to wait if you don’t. But apparently Roy is on a mission to make panettone a year-round phenomenon. So you can buy one anytime soon.
P.S. I hear his Valentine’s day panettone with dried raspberries, pistachios, and milk chocolate is to die for.