Pangiallo: Roman Christmas cake

Pangiallo has been a traditional Christmas treat in Rome since ancient Roman times.

By Kate Zagorski

Literally meaning “yellow bread”, pangiallo is a traditional Roman sweet eaten at Christmas.

It is made from a mixture of dried and candied fruit, nuts, citrus peel, honey and dark chocolate which are combined and formed into a dome shape. The cake is brushed with a saffron glaze and baked in the oven to create a golden yellow outer crust and a dense, rich, sticky interior.

Pangiallo is originally an ancient recipe from the Roman Imperial age when it was made and gifted during the winter solstice to wish for the return of the sun, hence its colour and round shape.

Nowadays pangiallo is harder to track down than the more diffused festive treats such as panforte or panpepato, yet it can still be found in some of the artisanal bakeries of the city around the yuletide period.

However, preparing pangiallo at home is very simple and will fill your house with a delicious warm aroma.

The recipe below is a basic guideline, but you could also add dried figs, pine nuts or spices such as nutmeg, ginger or cinnamon according to your own taste. Once made it keeps well so it makes an excellent homemade Christmas gift for friends and family.

Pangiallo
80g almonds
80g hazelnuts
80g walnuts
40g pistachios
100g sultanas
40g mixed candied fruit
100g honey
100g dark chocolate
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Grated zest of 1 orange
80g flour 00

For the glaze:
2 small sachets of saffron (2 x 0.1g bags)
2 tbsp flour 00
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Place the dark chocolate into a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water and melt until smooth. While the chocolate is melting roughly chop the almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios and put into a large mixing bowl.

Add the grated lemon and orange zest, the sultanas and the candied fruit and combine everything together well using a fork. Add the honey and continue to mix as you gradually pour in the melted chocolate. Lastly add the flour and, once combined, use your hands to push down and form a compact dough.

Place the dough on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and use your hands to mould it into a dome shape.

To make the golden glaze put 2 tablespoons of flour into a clean bowl, add the olive oil and saffron and mix. Then gradually add cold water, bit by bit, until you have a thick, creamy texture. Brush the glaze over the top of the dome until it is completely covered then bake in the oven at 180°C for 35-40 minutes until the outer crust is firm.

Kate Zagorski has lived in Italy since 2000. Married to a food-obsessed Roman chef, she leads food tours and also works as a freelance food and travel writer.