Travel

The Hot Chocolate Bread Pudding That Makes My Peruvian Christmas

For Carlos C. Olaechea, panettone—or panetón, as it's known in Peru—was always dry and disappointing. That is, until he combined it with another holiday tradition: his dad's hot cocoa.

December 23, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

For many Peruvians, there is no Christmas without panetón (this is the local Spanish pronunciation of panettone, a northern Italian sweet bread studded with dried and candied fruit). In Peru, it also includes candied papaya. The reason why this Italian baked good ended up so firmly embedded in Peruvian culture is the same reason why we ended up with dishes like tallarines verdes and sopa seca. Peru is home to a significant Italian immigrant population, which has greatly influenced the local cuisine, particularly around Christmas.

In my family, we often varied what we had for dinner on Christmas Eve, and I grew up not really knowing what a traditional Peruvian Christmas looked like. My dad, who always tried to infuse every occasion with some Peruvian flavor, fell in love with American-style roast beef and ended up making that every Dec. 24. He never faltered, however, from serving the most traditional Peruvian Christmas element for dessert: panetón and hot chocolate. It was easy to include panetón on the Christmas Eve table as it’s something you buy rather than make yourself. Considering that my dad never really learned to cook Peruvian food, this was a saving grace.

Peruvian hot chocolate is distinctive, but probably not as bold as Mexican hot chocolate. Delicately flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, it’s made with bars of drinking chocolate and evaporated milk, the milk of choice in Peru. My dad never really learned to properly make it. He was too impatient to wait for chocolate to slowly melt into simmering milk. Instead, he would put the chocolate in a blender with milk and whir it until it looked homogenous. We ignored the fact that there were little chunks of bitter unsweetened chocolate in each cup.

Growing up, my aunt and uncle would sometimes come to visit us in December for at least a month. Since Peru is south of the equator, Christmas time coincided with my little cousin’s summer vacation, and my relatives would take advantage of this to come to Florida to enjoy the beaches and max out their credit cards at the many outlet malls. The years when we would celebrate Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) with our extended family, my aunt would take over the preparation of the hot chocolate. She took her time to make it right, and she always added a few tablespoons of butter to the pot to make it richer.

When compared to other Peruvian desserts, many of which are intensely sweet and very moist, I always considered panetón to be pretty bland and dry in comparison. It always seemed odd to me to celebrate such a joyous occasion with something so demure, when there are plenty of other options in the Peruvian sweets canon: desserts that are dripping in perfumed syrups or layered with custards, caramels, and jams and topped with fluffy meringue. But panetón was the only cultural touchstone I had during the holidays, so it always remained on the table (even though I sometimes had to force myself to eat a piece).

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Top Comment:
“Oh yeah. I actually found out I had been eating bad panetón all these years. I was stuck on D'onofrio, which has gotten really bad over the years. I actually bought a winters panetón, which was cheaper and so much better. Of course, nothing compares to the panetones you can get at bakeries in Lima. I LOVE your mom's addition of amaretto to her chocolate. I will do that next year. Thanks for the tip ”
— Carlos C.
Comment

One year, I had leftover panetón and hot chocolate and decided to combine them to make a bread pudding. It didn’t come out as I had expected, but it encouraged me to keep experimenting. I finally came up with a winning recipe that uses a mixture of condensed milk and evaporated milk, which form the base of a traditional Latin American flan. I flavored the custard base with cocoa powder, cloves, cinnamon, and vanilla and let pieces of panetón soak up the rich flavors overnight before sliding the baking dish in the oven. To make it even more decadent, I drizzle each serving with warm chocolate ganache spiked with pisco.

Nowadays, especially when prepared like this, I can’t wait to have panetón on Christmas Eve.

Panettone/panetón, yay or nay? Let us know in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Carmen Rita
    Carmen Rita
  • Whitney
    Whitney
  • Fernando Jibaja Salvá
    Fernando Jibaja Salvá
  • Jorge Matos
    Jorge Matos
  • Carlos C. Olaechea
    Carlos C. Olaechea
I was born in Peru to a Limeño father and a Texan mother. We moved to Miami when I was five, and I grew up in the "Kendall-suyo" neighborhood—often called the 5th province of the Inca Empire because of its large Peruvian population. I've been writing about food since I was 11 years old, and in 2016 I received a master's degree in Gastronomy from Boston University. A travel columnist at Food52, I'm currently based in Hollywood, Florida—another vibrant Peruvian community—where I am a writer, culinary tour guide, and consultant.

7 Comments

Carmen R. January 4, 2020
There is nothing like having hot chocolate and a piece of paneton with some butter on top in the middle of the summer in Christmas time!!! Specially if is the one that my mother buy at the Panaderia (bakery) around the corner of her house in Chorrillos. My dad make toasts with the left over panetones and we ate them with some butter on top too.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. January 6, 2020
Believe it or not, I have not spent a Christmas in Peru since I was a baby, so I think I need to go visit and try it out. And please give me the name of the panaderia in Chorrillos!

This year, several food bloggers in Lima did a taste test of panetones. Apparently, Gaston Acurio's wife, Astrid, makes her own panetón to sell and it comes in a beautiful package. I believe you can get them at Tanta and at Wong
 
Whitney December 30, 2019
This sounds great! I can eat one small piece a year of straight panettone. This year I made a Christmas trifle inspired by Jamie Oliver with the panettone we received in a Christmas box.
 
Fernando J. December 25, 2019
Yeah you must've been having the wrong panetón brand... Dry and bland are words I couldn't associate it with. Speaking of Italian influence.... My mom also adds to her hot chocolade a few drops of Amaretto, and it's a game changer.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. December 29, 2019
Oh yeah. I actually found out I had been eating bad panetón all these years. I was stuck on D'onofrio, which has gotten really bad over the years. I actually bought a winters panetón, which was cheaper and so much better. Of course, nothing compares to the panetones you can get at bakeries in Lima. I LOVE your mom's addition of amaretto to her chocolate. I will do that next year. Thanks for the tip
 
Jorge M. December 24, 2019
In Peru we have thousands of different Panettone's brands but my Mum was always picky and choosy like a lot of Peruvian Mothers. She used to say that if she didn't have a good piece of Panettone D'Onofrio then that was a bad Christmas so all my brothers and grand children's we had to make sure she always had a 2 or more boxes of D'Onofrio's Panettone close to reach... Love my Mum and I miss her so much now.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. December 29, 2019
Oh D'Onofrio was my go-to panetón for years, along with sol de cuzco drinking chocolate. But then I found out that sol de cuzco isn't actually real chocolate. it is chocolate flavored. And panetón d'onofrio actually has gone down in quality ever since d'onofrio stopped being a peruvian-owned company. In fact, a friend of mine in lima did a taste comparison of panetones and d'onofrio scored very low. but yes. Peruvian moms and dads are very choosy about their food. but thats was has made us such connoisseurs