11 best panettones: Chocolate, gluten-free and orange Italian bakes for Christmas

Joanne Gould
·9-min read
<p>We tested around 30 variations in different sizes, styles and price points</p> (The Independent/iStock)

We tested around 30 variations in different sizes, styles and price points

(The Independent/iStock)

Panettone, the classic Italian Christmas bake, has become so popular here in the UK that it frequently outsells Christmas pudding on the supermarket shelves.

With its airy, buttery dough traditionally studded with dried fruits, many of us enjoy a slice or two of panettone over the festive period – whether as a lighter alternative to British Christmas puds, toasted and buttered for breakfast on the big day, or simply as a delicious tea time treat.

Italians take panettone very seriously, with bakeries priding themselves on the decades old mother-yeast used to start the dough, and sourcing of vine fruits, citrus peel, butter and milk of the highest quality.

Today, recipes have strayed from the original incarnation and you’ll find variations on chocolate, panettone impregnated with flavoured custards, and more elaborate toppings than the traditional lightly glazed cake dome.

We tried around 30 variations of panettone in different sizes, styles and price points, looking for light, well-flavoured dough – without any hint of dryness – ease of cutting, and overall enjoyment.

This year’s panettone entries set a high bar, with everyone from the supermarkets right up to the most luxurious Italian bakeries nailing the festive flavours and soft, moreish bake. Whether you’d got a couple of quid to spend, or are looking to splash out on a stunning sweet Christmas centrepiece, if you’re looking for ultra-traditional, or are searching for the stickiest, most sumptuous bake around, there’s a panettone to suit your festive table.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

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Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference apricot, orange and hazelnut panettone

The Sainsbury’s panettone is a real beauty this year. With a doughy, soft and moreish texture, the crumb is similar to many of the more expensive versions we’ve tried. There’s a delightful springiness and the flavour is full of discernible vanilla, butter and citrus, though just a touch less indulgent. The orange notes here are very forward, and we loved the inclusion of apricots which feels very Italian and festive.

The hazelnut glaze is – for once – just right, delivering a gently sweet nuttiness without causing any problems with structure, so can be sliced and eaten as is to great effect, or toasted if you’re careful not to burn the glaze. We’d happily spend our Christmas mornings breakfasting on this, and at 750g it should tide us over for a while. It comes nicely boxed and ribbon-tied which makes it good for gifting too.

Buy now £7.50, Sainsburys

Carluccio’s panettone tradizionale

Carluccio’s always do a killer line in panettone which has been sourced from a small patisserie in Piemonte for the past 20 years. It tends to carry around five or six varieties each year which could be chocolate, limoncello or otherwise flavoured, but always really good. We’ve plumped for the Tradizionale incarnation this year, which we found to be a shining example of the traditional bake – 1kg of gloriously yellow dough with perfect pull-able texture and jam-packed with fun, multicoloured glace fruit – but with the added bonus of a crunchy hazelnut topping.

While the topping is undoubtedly delicious, it does have the downside of rendering the panettone unsuitable for toasting and it’s rather a mess to cut as a result. Luckily it’s so moist and tasty as is, you won’t be tempted to toast it anyway.

Buy now £19.95, Carluccio’s

Lina Stores traditional Milano panettone

Wonderful Lina Stores is a family-run Italian deli (and now pair of restaurants) which has been providing Londoners with gourmet goods imported from the best producers for more than 75 years, so it makes sense to pay it a visit when you’re in the market for this Milanese Christmas bake. Lina Stores’ panettone respects the traditional recipe and is a kilo of slowly leavened buttery cake packed with juicy raisins and glazed orange zest.

Fruit is well distributed, the crumb is among the best we’ve seen and the overall flavour is discernibly festive thanks to the strong citrus presence. This panettone is perfectly moist and can be enjoyed for breakfast, afternoon tea or with something cold, Italian and sparkling for a Christmas celebration. It comes prettily boxed in Lina Stores’ signature duck egg shade, making a good gift too if you can bear to part with it. Lovely stuff.

Buy now £25.95, Lina Stores

Waitrose No. 1 nocciolato panettone

This panettone divided opinion: a large panettone at 1kg of Italian-made cake beautifully decorated with a crunchy hazelnut topping (like the Carluccio’s one), plus lots of whole almonds and sugar strands. Inside, the panettone is very generously stuffed with perfectly plump sultanas and tangy mixed peel – which one tester really loved – but we also felt there was a tendency towards dryness, and this panettone can’t be toasted and buttered due to the topping.

Despite this, it was felt that when served with a morning cup of tea or coffee any dryness was remedied. Regardless, this panettone had such a lovely fruity character that it had to be included in this list. Best get the kettle on.

Buy now £15.00, Waitrose & Partners

Gluten free panettone by vergani

There’s no need for anyone to miss out on panettone this Christmas thanks to the clever Vergani family of bakers who has managed to pull off a pretty convincing gluten-free version of the sweet Italian treat. Using the same 72-hour rising process as an authentically made traditional panettone, this 600g cake still retains most of the fluffiness and luxury of a regular bake, but means everyone can tuck in.

It cuts beautifully into distinct toastable slices and is rich and juicy with vine fruits and a pleasant, strong citrus waft. Sacla suggest’s serving with gelato and sweet wine, which sounds just about perfect to us.

Buy now £15.00, Sacla

Selfridges Project Earth vegan salted caramel and dark chocolate panettone

We absolutely raved about the salted caramel panettone from Selfridges last Christmas, and this year the department store upped its game by adding dark chocolate – and making it vegan. Part of its Project Earth campaign, this panettone is sustainably made and packaged, and free from animal by-products – hard to believe when you taste how buttery the soft, springy dough appears.

The salted caramel is decadently interjected throughout the dough, providing pockets of oozy, sweetness and slight salty tang as a contrast to the festively scented cake. Nuggets of dark chocolate give this panettone an adult edge, but this will go down well with all the family. An earth-friendly triumph to take home this year, and wonderfully presented too.

Buy now £19.99, Selfridges

Tesco Finest authentic Italian panettone

We were really impressed with this from Tesco. It’s what you’d expect from a good panettone: a vanilla and spice scented dough which is springy and soft, well-fruited and light enough that you could eat more than is strictly necessary. At a hefty 750g, this panettone is a great value option that is versatile enough to serve as a not-too-heavy dessert, for breakfast or with a cup of tea and can be toasted or not. It’s just right for grazing on during that tricky in-between Christmas and New Year time, if you ask us.

Buy now £7.00, Tesco

Seggiano chestnut panettone

Another one that divided testers here: Seggiano’s chestnut panettone from Whole Foods uses artisan candied chestnuts instead of the usual dried fruit. Made by an Italian master baker using a 40-year-old mother yeast, this panettone is made traditionally using the naturally leavened method, is proven and baked for more than 36 hours.

The result – one tester thought – was absolute perfection, thanks to the insanely rich dough which was bang on for softness, pliability, and springiness with the gooey chestnuts adding a welcome fudgy note without being too sweet. One tester thought that it was crying out for dried fruit, so it comes down to a matter of taste. We all agreed that the local honey lent a lovely flavour and just-right stickiness to the dough, which would be almost sacrilegious to toast. Good with coffee, Prosecco or Vin Santo; it is Christmas, after all. Available in-store only.

Buy now £14.99, Whole Foods Market

Bocca di Lupo panettone

In normal times, Bocca di Lupo is a brilliant Soho restaurant serving some of the best regional Italian food in London. During these very un-normal times, it pivoted to an at-home service which includes feasting menus, deli items and Christmas hampers, filled with goodies like this delicious panettone, hand wrapped and tied with ribbon. Made by a small family bakery on the Amalfi coast, Bocca di Lupo’s beautifully risen, highly domed panettone showcases the sheer skill and artistry of the bakers.

The inner is light and airy, but with a deep yellow hue that confirms its buttery richness. It’s generously studded with fatly luscious raisins and sweet, aromatic candied orange. It cuts like a dream and the eating is even better; perfect for stealing a slice any time of day or night. Once gently toasted and buttered further, we were transported to heaven and made embarrassingly quick work of this 750g treat between four of us.

Buy now £25.00, Bocca di Lupo

Fiasconaro X Dolce & Gabbana mandorle di Sicilia panettone

This limited edition Fiasconaro x Dolce & Gabbana panettone is as extra as you’d expect it to be. Made by Sicilian family bakers Fiasconaro, who have been perfecting the art of patisserie since 1953, this panettone blends the Northern Italian tradition of sourdough panettone-making with the ingredients and flavours of the South to produce this stunning cake, which is then wrapped and presented in a hat box-style tin vividly decorated with Dolce & Gabbana’s unmistakable designs.

There are three varieties available, but we’ve opted for the Mandorle Di Sicilia: a traditional enriched dough with raisins soaked in Vecchio Samperi (a prized aged Marsala) then studded with sweet Sicilian almonds and sugar grains. This is like the Waitrose nocciolato panettone on speed. As soon as you open the packaging, the boozy aroma of the Marsala hits you. Cutting into the crunchy icing, the panettone is a deep burnished bronze with a pleasing softness to the dough and flavour rich with butter and raisins. It’s expensive, of course, but the spectacle and taste is probably worth it.

Buy now £39.99, Sous Chef

Morrisons the best classic fruit panettone

The best way we can describe this panettone is that it is like a giant hot cross bun – and that is a good thing. Lots of candied orange and lemon lends a lovely tang to what is a richly scented dough bejewelled with luscious sultanas, then a slight hint of booze makes it an altogether festive affair. This 750g panettone is soft, fluffy and buttery enough on its own, but would also be delicious toasted and served with a cup of tea. Good value.

Buy now £7.00, Morrisons