Pandolce Genovese

December  9, 2021
10 Ratings
Photo by Emilio Scoti
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • makes One 9-inch cake
Author Notes

Of all the things COVID took from so many of us last year, I can’t really claim that a Christmas cake was such a big loss, but it was just another symbol of something beautiful stolen by that dreadful year. So I was determined to make Christmas work no matter what: for my kids, for myself, and for my mother-in-law. And I would start by making pandolce.

This compact cake studded with fruit and pine nuts is obligatory in and around Genoa during the holiday season, much like panettone is in Milan. And, like panettone, almost no one makes pandolce at home. Instead, the cakes are bought from the city’s many pasticcerie (pastry shops), where they are stacked high on top of display cases, wrapped in colorful paper, and tied with silk ribbon.

According to legend, pandolce was invented during a contest among the city’s pastry chefs in the 16th century, when the Doge challenged them to create a dessert representative of Genoa’s wealth and grandeur. Traditionally, before being served, a sprig of bay leaves is stuck into the middle of the cake and then brought to the table by the youngest member of the family. The oldest at the table would cut the first slice, wrap it in a napkin, and give it to the first passing alms-seeker.

Note: Orange flower water, a distillate made from bitter orange blossoms, has been produced in Liguria for centuries and shows up in many local sweets. Look for it online or in specialty food shops, or substitute with ½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest.
Laurel Evans

Test Kitchen Notes

Excerpted with permission from Liguria: The Cookbook: Recipes from the Italian Riviera by Laurel Evans. © 2021 by Laurel Evans. Excerpted by permission of Rizzoli.

—The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 2 1/3 cups (10½ ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • Seeds from 1⁄2 of a vanilla bean
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water
  • 1/3 cup (1½ ounces) pine nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) raisins
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Add the egg and beat on high speed until fluffy. Slowly beat in the milk and orange flower water until combined. Stir in the pine nuts, fennel seeds, candied orange peel, and raisins.
  4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine, but do not overmix. The mixture will be dense and you might need to use your hands to incorporate all the flour.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Shape the dough into a smooth ball and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Press gently to flatten slightly. Score a large triangle shape on the surface of the dough (this traditionally represents the Holy Trinity).
  6. Cook until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Leslie
  • Laurel Evans
    Laurel Evans
  • jpriddy
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell

12 Reviews

NancyFromKona January 15, 2023
Fabulous, pleasantly sweet wee cake that I will make every Christmas for the rest of my baking life. I made AMAZING Cara Cara zest using NYT’s ‘Cold Candied Oranges’ recipe which yields beautiful oranges which keep for months, a bitter orange syrup which forms because you’ve removed some zest leaving pith exposed to the soaking liquid. My guest’s eyes widened and grins formed when they tasted the zest which topped spritzers; I had to hide the zest after finding my guests were sneaking into the fridge to nibble on it. As I put the cake together it reminded me of scones and I worried that the time to bake might depend on how gently flattened the cook made it; cooked until the center was 200 degrees=55 min and perfect bearing in mind that the zest I used was very moist, not sugared like most commercially available candied zest and so I’d had absolutely no difficulty working the flour in. Day #1 I wished I’d put more toasted fennel seed in but day #2 the fennel was more in evidence. Used toasted mac nuts. Served mine with coffee but after doing more research understand that it is traditional to serve with Prosecco. And as the picture above shows, a sprig of fresh bay leaves is placed on top. OK, I’ll prune my bay tree in December. Mahalo for sharing this wonderful recipe.
Laurel E. January 16, 2023
Thank you so much, Nancy! It makes me so happy that this recipe worked out for you, and that will be become part of your Christmas tradition :)
JenniferJ January 2, 2023
Delicious, distinctive, great with coffee or tea--major holiday vibes. And so easy. I was intrigued by this recipe and the description. It's a terrific holiday cake without being complicated or sending me searching for ingredients. As suggested, I substituted finely zested fresh orange peel for the orange-blossom water, which I didn't have. And vanilla from a bottle in lieu of the vanilla bean. I also candied the peel of one orange, which was quick and easy (lots of recipes on the web). The combination of orange zest, candied peel, raisins, pine nuts and fennel--amazing! As Leslie mentioned, this is fairly dry--perfect with coffee. My husband compared it to a scone in the best sense. I expect I will make this each Christmas. Love it. Cheers to the author for sharing.
Leslie December 22, 2022
This is seriously delicious. The combination of flavours of the fennel, orange (candied and blossom water), raisins and pine nuts are delightful. I had to substitute vanilla extract for the vanilla bean seeds (I used 1 tsp of good vanilla). It is a fairly dry cake, as you would expect it to be, that just gets better with age. Will make this again.
Julie December 8, 2022
Any suggestions to replace pine nut, which are way too expensive? Would walnuts be ok?
jpriddy December 8, 2022
Pecans are somewhat cheaper and would have the closest, sweet-mild flavor.
Rosalind P. December 8, 2022
Toasted slivered almonds
Laurel E. December 9, 2022
You can replace with your nut of choice, perhaps slivered almonds would look the most similar. Halved hazelnuts would also be delicious.
NancyFromKona December 9, 2022
Aren’t they though! Costcos small package is $33. Yikes. Macadamia nuts make a great substitute everywhere you use pine nuts. Pesto, Italian pine nut cookies…macs are a softer nut without the bitter notes of walnuts.
Marcie December 8, 2022
The written instructions say to use candied orange peel, which is sweet and succulent. But the ingredients say to use Spice Islands dried orange peel, which is very different. Which one?
jpriddy December 8, 2022
They meant candied orange peel. Honest. (That much dried orange peel would... not be nice.)
Laurel E. December 9, 2022
Hello there, thanks for writing. It should be candied orange peel, not dried orange peel. I'm really not sure how that slipped into the recipe as it wasn't in the original version!