Panettone is a cylindrical Italian cake with origins in Milan, made from a rich yeast dough and traditionally filled with candied fruits and raisins. Some of Sonoma County’s best bakers make panettone during the holiday season. It’s not a simple process! Nor can it be compared to the boxed panettone you’ll find on supermarket shelves. Though steeped in Italian tradition, it’s Sonoma County-style, meaning made local and fresh, with only the finest ingredients. Here are our picks for where to find the best expressions of this traditional Italian specialty to give and savor during the holidays. Buon Natale!

“Our panettone, like all of our bakery items, are made completely from scratch and filled with love,” said Bobbi Burton, co-owner with Warren Burton of BURTONZ BAKERY in Windsor. “We chose our recipe after a lot of trial and error, and tweaking the flavors and ratios of ingredients to our personal liking.”

An unusual aspect about making panettone is the cooling process: Burton suspends the baked loaves upside-down for four hours to keep the signature-domed shape from deflating.
Burton said that one of her family’s favorite panettone traditions is for their Papa Bill to make a delicious French toast during the holidays. This holiday season, the bakery will offer panettone for sale, baked fresh that day, on Fridays and Saturdays, December 2 through January 7.

BurtoNZ Bakery: 707-687-5455, Hours: Mon.-Fri. 6 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-2 p.m.; or at Windsor Certified Farmers Market, Sundays 10 a.m.-1 p.m., April through December.

Beth Thorp, owner/baker at NIGHTINGALE BREADS in Forestville, said that panettone “is a wonderfully light, slightly sweet buttery taste of goodness. With the subtle taste of fruit and vanilla, this Italian Christmas bread should not be mistaken for your grandmother’s fruitcake!”

Although Thorp is not Italian herself, she happened to open her business “in a town rich with Italian immigrants.” After Thorp’s dear friend Lori asked her to consider making panettone one week after Nightingale opened in 1988, a tradition was born. Customers come back year after year for it.
Making panettone takes 36 hours from beginning to end. Thorp uses sourdough starter and “stiffens it up to make sure it is good and strong for the journey.” She uses golden raisins, candied lemon and orange peel, and orange zest, saying that these subtle flavors permeate the bread without overpowering it.

“Our panettone [pictured above] is wrapped in cellophane, tied with red and green ribbons and has a lovely label with a history of panettone on the back,” Thorp said. This year it will be available November 30 through Christmas.

Nightingale Breads: 707-887-8887, Hours: Wed.-Fri. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat. 10a.m.-4 p.m.

DOWNTOWN BAKERY AND CREAMERY’s owner Kathleen Stewart has been selling panettone ever since her Healdsburg business was established 29 years ago. “My biggest customer, until 1½ years ago, was my landlord, an Italian man who died soon after 100th birthday,” she said. “Every year I would make him 25 to 30 panettone that we wrap in traditional cellophane with ribbons and he would pass them out to his Italian friends.”

Stewart and one of her original partners Lindsey Shere were Chez Panisse alumni (Lindsey was one of the founders). “I suspect the recipe came from Lindsey,” said Stewart. “Knowing Lindsey and how we do everything here… it’s probably a panettone recipe from a baker in Milano.”

Stewart said just the making of the dough is a three-stage process. “The thing that probably makes ours the most special, we always make our own candied citrus peel—it’s a long process… We also use golden raisins, currents and pine nuts.”

The panettone at Downtown Bakery is a tall dome shape, about eight to 12 inches high, made with organic ingredients and available from the second week of December through New Year’s Eve.
Downtown Bakery: 707-431-2719, Hours: Weekdays 6 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat. 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 7 a.m.-4 p.m.

At COSTEAUX FRENCH BAKERY the work for panettone starts in October for selling in November and December. The panettone is handmade in small batches with no artificial preservatives.
Owner Will Seppi reveals that his recipe incorporates “real butter, fresh eggs, candied lemon and orange peel along with raisins, vanilla, rum and orange extract to develop our signature panettone.”
Seppi suggested that panettone can be sliced and toasted with butter or served with ice cream or mascarpone as a dessert to accompany an after-dinner cordial and coffee. Loyal Costeaux supporters can also share panettone with loved ones around the country; Costeaux French Bakery will ship the cakes, baked in festive brown and gold baking containers, wrapped in a cellophane bag and tied with ribbon.

Costeaux French Bakery: 707-433-1913, Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Fri.- Sat. 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Also available at the Costeaux location inside Big John’s Market.