Passionate pastry chefs in pursuit of Panettone perfection

 ROME – It is the world famous sweet bread that transcends cultures, and Italians consume tonnes of the mouth-watering treat at Christmas time. But what exactly goes into creating a stand out Panettone?

 According to the winner of the “Best Panettone in the World” competition, the quality of the ingredients is crucial but it’s not the only consideration. The one factor that can make or break the dome-shaped treat: “The mother yeast because it is the determinant for many of the features of a good Panettone – leavening, aroma, fluffiness, flavour and texture,” said Ruggiero Cali who has been crowned the winner in the “Classic” category of the second edition of the World Panettone Championship, held October at Rome’s Cinecitta World.

 The young pastry chef of Emporio Borsari Pasticceri in the Veneto region, who has been whisking up a dessert storm for more than 14 years, says the dream has always been to achieve the best Panettone, “in itself considered by all professionals as perhaps the most complex and fascinating dessert.”

 But with more than 300 professionals from all over the world striving for Panettone perfection, how does one determine a winner?

 “The jury analyses different criteria for evaluating the product: the colour and aroma, from which the raw materials and their quality are deduced,” said Roberto Lestani, president of the jury and world pastry champion.

 Lestani also emphasises the importance of alveolation: the air bubbles or holes that form inside the Panettone.

 “The alveolus that appears must be slightly elongated, indicating the perfect processing and fermentation of the mother yeast, not to forget the cooking, essential for the success of an excellent product,” he said.

 According to Lestani, the four judges – each world champions in their own right – set aside personal taste and focus on the aforementioned criteria.

 When analysing classic Panettone, taste is clearly important but does not present any issues, he said. The problems arise “when we are dealing with innovative Panettone, perhaps with the taste of spices, with particular products, and it is then that you have to find the right combination between the different flavours,” he said. “The final product must be harmonious.”