The SFoodie Advent Calendar counts down the days before Christmas/Nondenominationalwinterholiday, one treat at a time.
SFoodie can't tell you how many loaves of imported Italian panettone we bought over the years before we admitted to ourselves: Dry boxed bread sucks. The more we searched for a good loaf, the more wrong it seemed to buy imported bread.
Especially when there are bakeries in San Francisco that make fresh panettone. Most of the Italian bakeries in North Beach have given up the pursuit, except for Liguria Bakery (1700 Stockton, 421-3786), which makes one and only one batch a year. The owners said it'll be out tomorrow (Wed., Dec. 8); they will only be selling 1-pound loaves, and haven't set a price yet.
In the Mission, Dianda's Italian American Bakery ― one of the last remnants of an eclipsed Italian neighborhood ― is panettone central. The counters are bricked high with multicolored trapezoidal boxes from Italy, and the bakery also sells 1- and 2-pound loaves of its own Christmas bread ($5.25 for 1-pound loaves, $10.50 for the 2-pounders).
Sure, the Dianda's panettone isn't as tender as a fresh-baked challah, but it's got a presence that we haven't found in the boxed breads. Each time we open the bag the smell of brandy and candied citron rolls out, and the airy, pale-gold loaf has a pronounced sweetness, amplified with a sugar glaze. While we ate the first few slices of the round loaf the traditional way, slicing vertical wedges to snack on with strong coffee, we've been cutting horizontal slices from the rest and toasting panettone Pac-Mans with raisin eyes. We're not sure if the Milanese bakers who are trying to score DOC status for panettone would approve of us slathering on enough melted butter to make the toasted slices glisten, but screw 'em: In America, butter and Christmas belong together.
Dianda's Italian American Pastry: 2883 Mission (at 23rd St.), 647-5469.
Dec. 1: Fruitcake from Schubert's Bakery