In the panettone vs Christmas pudding debate, there’s only one way to go

Panettone and glass of white wine on Christmas table
Panettone is giving the traditional Christmas cake a run for its money - ac productions/Tetra images RF

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a jolly good ding-dong over something that is essentially massively inconsequential. Sequins vs sparkles, for example. Coloured lights vs warm whites for the Christmas tree. Tinsel: naff or not? (FWIW I’m in the former camp, but no judgement here for anyone who places themselves in the latter).

And so to the latest Big Question: is panettone better than Christmas pudding? According to Waitrose, which is always correct, we Britons are ditching the pud in favour of the cake. We are identifying, if you will, as Europeans. We may have voted to Leave, but we will keep those continental traditions, thank you very much – and that means that, these days, we’d rather round off our turkey with a slice of currant-studded air than a slab of suet and raisins, flaming brandy or no flaming brandy.

It’s not just Waitrose saying this; Selfridges too has reported sales of panettone outstripping those of Christmas pud every year since 2016, with the ratio now standing at 3:1. That’s an awful lot of large cardboard boxes and decorative tins jostling for space on the sideboard – although at least we can tuck those pudding basins away into the dustiest corner of the cupboard.

I find myself conflicted here. Two Sundays ago I dutifully stirred up my Christmas pudding which was, I admit, an awful lot of faff. Not only did I have to locate the suet in Sainsbury’s (in home baking, weirdly, rather than alongside the lard and goose fat), but I also possibly foolishly decided to candy my own peel. There was a lot of soaking and stirring, and although the end result is now safely stored, maturing in a dark cupboard, I do wonder whether it was worth the effort as, inevitably, hardly anyone will actually eat it. A nice light slice of panettone with perhaps a drizzle of cream would undoubtedly be a more sensible way to end the Christmas meal.

But then you wouldn’t get the brandy butter (for which Xmas pud is essentially just a vehicle), or the thrill of discovering you’ve landed the £1 coin, or the jeopardy of whether the brandy will light and, if it does, whether it will last long enough for a round of We Wish You a Merry Christmas (top tip: use vodka, as per Nigella; it burns better and for longer). Panettone, by contrast, is the ultimate in style over substance: looks great, makes an impressive gift (surely the real reason sales are so high), tastes of basically nothing and doesn’t make you feel full.

It does, however, make the best eggy bread, and a superlative bread and butter pudding. And so my solution is… you don’t have to choose! Buy both! Or buy one and make the other! And have your Christmas pudding on Boxing Day, or turn it into ice cream, or eat it with a chunk of cheese (I am extremely excited to try Minger, apparently the world’s smelliest cheese, which I predict will go excellently with a slice of plum pudding). And then you can eat your panettone in all those in-between times when you feel a bit hungry but you’re not sure for what – and it’s probably not real hunger anyway, so a slice of toasted airy cake with currants will fit the bill very nicely.

Because Christmas is about All the Things, and there’s no need to be divisive. So go crazy; get both. Merry Christmas.