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Pandoro “Christmas Tree”

Pandoro “Christmas Tree”

At this time of year, in every Italian family, there’s a decision to be made. Will it be panettone, or pandoro at the table? There are those who stand by their fruit-studded panettone, and those who swear by its plainer cousin, the golden pandoro. Me? I love both of these rich, yeasty cakes, and can’t do without a panettone at Christmas. I love to eat it warmed up for breakfast on Christmas morning, but it also makes the best bread pudding on the planet.

Pandoro may be panettone’s plain Jane cousin, although its star-shape is anything but.
What’s really great about its plainness though, is that you can refashion it in many different and delicious ways, including this dessert that’s perfect for Christmas.
I’ve already made this pandora “tree” twice so far this holiday season, using a chocolate mousse filling.

Last year, I made it with a filling of mascarpone and lemon curd, as shown in the first photo of this post. Try it with whipped cream, vanilla pastry cream, or a combination of vanilla and chocolate. Pandoro is like a beautiful blank slate, so you’re limited only by your imagination.

Start by slicing the cake horizontally into six to seven layers.

Make a simple syrup and add some liqueur – anything you like, from rum, to limoncello, to Grand Marnier. For the chocolate mousse version, I used rum. Drizzle (ok, drench is more like it) each layer with some of the liquid, before spreading the mousse on top. As you add a new layer of cake, swivel the layer so that the points don’t line up. You want it to resemble a Christmas tree shape.

When I was finished, I sprinkled it with some powdered sugar, but it quickly gets absorbed by the cake. I also added some small holly leaves and a star on top made from melted chocolate, using a cookie cutter to get the shapes.

In this chocolate version, I also added pomegranate seeds as decoration, but in last year’s version, raspberries and blueberries worked well too.

It’s easy to serve too, slicing from the top. One of these cakes serves a crowd of about twenty.
Once you see how delicious and versatile pandoro is, you’ll wish you had a couple stashed away in your pantry to pull out for special occasions.
I’ve also used pandoro for making zuppa inglese, (an Italian version of English trifle) a recipe I’ll post early next year.
Where I live, pandoro cakes are easily available at supermarkets or specialty food stores. If you can’t find them in stores near you, you can order them online.
But hurry, because they disappear right after Christmas.
Even though they contain no preservatives, they last for months, so buy a few for pandoro “emergencies.”

Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.

Pandoro “Christmas Tree”
printable recipe here

You can make this a day or two ahead of time. In fact, I think it tastes better if you make it ahead, giving the rum a chance to permeate the cake. The hardest part is finding a large enough space in your refrigerator.

Chocolate Mousse Version
1 large Pandoro
1 recipe chocolate mousse 
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup rum

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum.
Make the chocolate mousse recipe.
Slice the cake horizontally into five or six layers, and starting from the largest slice, take the simple syrup mixture and evenly pour some on the layer of the cake, then spread some of the mousse on top.
Take a second slice and place over the mousse, rotating the cake so the points are not in alignment with the first layer. Sprinkle with more of the simple syrup, then add more of the mousse. Continue doing this until you have used all layers, then spread a little more mousse on top. You’ll probably have some mousse leftover (not a bad thing).
Decorate as you like, with chocolate leaves, stars, berries, pomegranate arils.

Chocolate Mousse recipe


9 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 tsps. instant espresso powder, dissolved in 2 T. hot water
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in a microwave oven at 1 minute intervals, stirring after each interval so it doesn’t burn. (If you don’t have a microwave, use a double boiler or place the ingredients in a heat-proof measuring cup or bowl set inside a saucepan filled halfway with water, and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat; stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted. While the chocolate is melting, use a mixer to whip the espresso and cream in a large bowl until you have whipped cream, but don’t overwhip. Set it aside. In a separate bowl, use the mixer (with clean beaters) to whip the egg whites until they start to look white and creamy. Then add the sugar and whip just to combine. Again, do not over whip. When the chocolate is fully melted, pour it into a large mixing bowl. Add a scoop of the whipped cream and a scoop of the egg whites, and stir them thoroughly into the chocolate. In small alternating batches, fold the remaining whipped cream and egg whites into the chocolate until the mousse is smooth and even.

Lemon Version
1 large Pandoro
16 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 c. confectioner’s sugar
11 oz. lemon curd
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup limoncello

Mix the mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar and lemon curd together. Whip the cream, then add to the mixture.
Bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum.
Slice the cake into five or six horizontal layers. Spread some of the simple syrup on each slice, then cover with some of the mascarpone/lemon curd/cream mixture. Continue adding layers in this fashion, rotating each one so the points don’t match up. Decorate with berries or other items, as you like.

This Post Has 15 Comments
  1. Linda your chocolate version is awesome, great idea,I love it with the mousse, so beautiful! I'm making another one this year for Christmas day, I'm going with limoncello, I even went to the craft store to dress it up a little. It's so fun and such a show stopper dessert,no baking required! I even have 3 of my girlfriends making it for the first time this year. Merry Christmas friend!

  2. I am always searching for another holiday dessert that wont take hours to prepare. This is a spectatular way to dazzle guests at Christmas time using either a chocolate mouse filling or a lemon filling. Thanks for such a terrific suggestion.

  3. This looks lovely and very festive! I purchased my first pandoro this year from Eataly. I have made French toast with it so far, using eggnog instead of milk. It was lovely. Next go round, I'm going to add some chocolate sprinkles based on your chocolate version, too. Happy Holidays!

  4. This is just wonderful – festive, fun, and the perfect way to use Pandoro. We get lots of it at this time of the year, and I like doing special things with it – instead of just eating out of hand. Your Christmas Tree is gorgeous. Merry Christmas to you!

  5. What a wonderful idea!! Makes the pandora extra special although it is special as is. Now it is dessert but beautiful enough as a centerpiece!! I made the pandora for a bread contest and it won in the International bread part of the contest 🙂 I haven't made it since — I should! Next year I'll have to make it a point. I'm pinning and sharing your beautiful bread/dessert. Buon Natale!!

  6. This makes a showstopper Christmas dessert, Linda, and looks easy enough to make during this busy season. WE always have a panetone as part of our Christmas breakfast and now I will have to look for a Pandora for dessert!

    Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2016!

  7. What a beautiful idea to slice it horizontally and add curd or mousse! So impressive, Linda! I still have yet to taste either Pandoro or Pannetone but you've inspired me to try it – especially the Pandoro layers. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, Linda!

  8. I've been wanting to comment forever – no internet and then we got it back just before the tidal wave of the holiday began. I have not seen Pandoro – and I would dearly love to do this. For the ease partly (I do a huge Christmas Eve and then turnaround and do a Christmas Day dinner) but mainly because of it's prettiness – so gosh-darn-Christmas-star-lovely. I would do the one with the whipped cream and berries. The berries twinkle! Wishing you all good things in 2016!

  9. I have never had Pandoro. My Dad use to by us the Panatone Bread every year. Still miss that. I will have to look for this next year.
    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a have a Hapy New Year!

  10. Wow, a showstopper. I always buy both Pandoro and Panettone for Christmas. They both seem to have a good long shelf life (have you noticed?) and I usually end up making pandoro or panettone french toast or tiramisu sometime in January. In years past I've made a zuppa inglese using pandoro but I've never tried this tiered version. How do you cut it? From the top? I'm afraid I'd topple it while serving. Buon Anno e tantissimi auguri. Let's catch up soon. xx

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