A whole panettone and a single portion of David Sedaris

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 23, 2023

In the Christmas spirit, I got two things ahead of time – a whole panettone and one portion of David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice.
Let me explain.
The gift of a fantastic panettone last year by kind Italian friends got us hooked on the traditional Christmas sweet that’s more bread than cake. It’s a fascinating bake that is made during a long process similar to sourdough baking, taking several days to proof the panettone dough. This makes the cake extraordinarily fluffy and light and less like a cake than a sort of airy bread. The best panettone will be faintly citrus-scented and, in the words of The New York Times reviewer “rich enough to leave your fingers lightly buttered when you pull off a bite”.
A mass-produced traditional panettone, say Bauli, can cost anything between £12 to £15 for a reasonably sized loaf; an artisanal one can be two or three times that. According to Gastronomica, which says it is the UK’s best-loved Italian food supplier, the world’s most expensive panettone was 80,000 euros or £72,000) and was made by an Italian pastry chef for a billionaire Russian businessman. The high cost was on account of its fancy decoration of golden leaves and diamonds.
My sense is you don’t need to gild an expertly made panettone and its perfection is in the artistry and craftsmanship with which the ingredients are brought together in Italy’s signature Christmas cake.
Verdict on our panettone still to come.
So, to my second seasonal acquisition, a serving of American writer David Sedaris’s Christmas-themed collection of tales Holidays on Ice. The book was published long years ago, before he was anointed humorist extraordinaire, but it’s easy to see why it, and Mr Sedaris still capture the public imagination. One deeply questioning, wry yet sombre observation, SantaLand Diaries, considers the issues around putting yourself up as an elf-for-hire. So, you’re a short man and you’re willing to do what it takes to get paid, but it’s kinda ridiculous and kinda sad that this is the job you seek – and get. As Mr Sedaris writes: “I am applying for a job as an elf. Even worse than applying is the very real possibility that I will not be hired, that I couldn’t even find work as an elf. That’s when you know you’re a failure.” In many ways, with the cost-of-living crisis still hitting so many where it hurts most – the pocketbook – yesterday’s elf-for-hire may simply be today’s YouTube or TikTok influencer.

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