This is the first in a series of pieces examining other countries' holiday food traditions, and their presence in Seattle.
When she opened her downtown gelato shop in 1996, Maria Coassin hardly imagined slaving away over holiday breads for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but when Gelatiamo hit hard times that first year, Coassin’s father, one of many in a 200-year line of bakers in northern Italy, redeveloped the recipe passed down through the generations to suit her kitchen. The panettone was something to help the business get through the harsh Seattle winter—and it worked. No wonder; her panettone is a sweet, ever so airy dome-shaped bread of European butter, vanilla bean, and the plumpest golden raisins. It simply floats.
Pannetone has a romantic origin story, about a young Italian baker who fell in love with a rich man’s daughter and won her hand in marriage after saving a disastrous holiday dinner with his masterful sweet bread. But the reality is, this confection was helping people weather their struggles long before Coassin turned to it that winter: widespread poverty in Italy forced home cooks to create holiday treats with whatever they could find. Having arisen out of lean times, the bread calls for simple ingredients–flour, butter, eggs, an assortment of dried fruit.
The ingredients might be simple, the preparation not so much: seven different rises of the dough over 27 hours. At Gelatiamo, the work begins at one o’clock in the morning. “You know when you love something so much you almost hate it?” Coassin muses. At the close of every season, she turns to her team and says, “This is the last time.”
Her panettone is really Coassin’s way of feeling connected with family. If her dough isn’t holding together, she calls her youngest brother in Italy, known fondly in the Gelatiamo kitchen as “Dr. Panettone.” She also sends pictures of a particularly stunning batch, a familial competition that helps to bridge the nearly 6,000-mile gap between Coassin and her relatives.
In the Italian tradition, pair your panettone with a dessert wine after dinner. As a self-described “traditional gal,” Coassin was once skeptical of her Seattle customers’ serving methods (the most popular: toasted with butter). One customer suggestion Coassin can get behind? French toast. She says it’s absolutely delicious.
This time of year, mass-produced (and, many would argue, far more leaden) versions of panettone can be found on store shelves. And while other Seattle bakeries, such as Grand Central and Columbia City Bakery, make their own classic versions, Coassin has acquired a particularly devoted following over the years. Whether paired with Prosecco to toast the season or slathered in batter and served as French toast on Christmas morning, these loaves go fast, so consider calling or emailing ahead to reserve a few.