Catalan bakers say Italian panettone at Christmas 'here to stay'
Bread with raisins and candied fruit complements more traditional desserts like 'torrons' and 'neules'
Artisan bakers in Catalonia have noted a marked increase in the demand for panettone over the last decade, especially in the run-up to Christmas.
An Italian sweet bread made with raisins and candied fruit, panettone made the leap across the Mediterranean to Catalonia around 30 years ago, according to Jose Romero, a teacher at a school run by the Barcelona Pastry Chefs' Association.
"People welcomed it and it is here to stay," Romero tells the Catalan News Agency (ACN), admitting that "at first we thought it would be a fad."
Romero insists it isn't replacing Christmas treats normally consumed in Catalonia, like torrons (nougat) and neules (long cylindrical wafers), but instead acts as a complement.
Best panettone in Spain
A competition launched eight years ago to find the best panettone in Spain has driven up standards.
This year's winner was Vallflorida pastry shop in Sant Esteve Palautordera, a village 50km north of Barcelona – triumphing in both the chocolate and traditional categories.
The secret lies in the ingredients and processes used, owner Lluís Costa explains, differentiating artisan panettone from the products supermarkets sell.
"We put natural vanilla, grated lemon or orange, while in the others you find artificial colors and aromas," Costa says.
Then there is "the freshness of the product, working the sourdough, without yeast, which makes the fermentation slow and laborious."
The craze for panettone means Vallflorida now produces 2,400 units every week, involving "many hours of work" so that "no one is left without panettone if they come to our shop to get some."