With sales of traditional Christmas pudding and Christmas cake declining in the supermarkets, more inventive offerings are coming to the fore. And panettone is a star of the festive show

Panettone is unlikely to usurp the role of the Christmas pudding in British festive spreads – but has become a staple in supermarket bakery product ranges.

Most retailers now sell the sweet Italian bread, which is traditionally made over a period of several days and contains candied orange, citron and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry rather than soaked. Served in vertically cut wedge shapes, it is often accompanied by a sweet hot beverage, sweet wine or crema di mascarpone.

This year, Heston Blumenthal has created the Heston from Waitrose Black Forest Panettone (rsp: £12.50), described as a cherry-scattered bread topped with dark chocolate and kirsch-soaked cherries. The bread has been launched to tap demand for retro flavours, says Waitrose executive chef Jonathan Moore.

“Back in October 2016, as part of our annual Food and Drink Report, we noted that foodie trends from the 1970s were set to make a resurgence,” he adds. “Black Forest flavours bring back fond memories for many and it’s most definitely enjoying a revival.”

Meanwhile, plenty of bakers have developed their own twists on the panettone, with Waitrose selling an Arden and Amici chocolate chip panettone; a prosecco panettone stocked by Tesco; and Selfridges selling a salted caramel panettone. Stores are also tapping demand for smaller treats, with some offering mini versions of the bread.

This Christmas, Morrisons – which has been baking panettone from scratch in-store for six years – is rolling out a new recipe that includes more butter.

Yet innovation isn’t just limited to Christmas, with Waitrose having rolled out a hot cross bun version of panettone earlier this year. Made from a traditional panettone recipe, the bread came with a cross stencil and a sachet of spiced icing sugar, which included cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger for decoration.

Panettone has come a long way from its Italian roots – although the precise origins of the bread are open to debate. It has been suggested the name derives from the Milanese, ‘pan del ton’, meaning ‘cake of luxury’, but there are other theories:

According to one legend, a household servant called Toni saved the day after a chef burnt a cake, offering a mother yeast he had kept aside for himself for Christmas. The result was a great success and his master, Ludovico il Moro, named it Pan de Toni in his honour.

Another credits the invention to nobleman Ughetto Atellani, who was in love with the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. To help the family, he invented the recipe, which was a hit with the duke of Milan, who encouraged the launch of the new bread-like cake: Pan de Toni.

Of course, Italy isn’t the only nation that can lay claim to a Christmas classic, and Carrs Foods reports growing sales of its Kuchenmeister brand, which includes marzipan stollen loaves. The strongest growth has come from Stollen Bites as more consumers opt for smaller-sized treats.

This year, Carrs is extending Kuchenmeister with baumkuchen in selected Tesco stores. Baumkuchen is a traditional German cake made of thin dough layers applied to a rotisserie and individually baked in front of an open flame before being enrobed in milk chocolate.

“The festive selection on offer to consumers is now bigger than ever, with traditional products from Europe and abroad becoming increasingly popular,” says Carrs managing director Jeremy Gilboy.

Savour the festive flavour

Christmas isn’t just about sweet treats, with many businesses rolling out savoury products to tap the festivities.

Aldi is going big on festive savouries this year. Its Deep Filled Festive Sandwiches will be available in Brie & Cranberry, Turkey Feast With Pigs Under Blankets, and Ham Hock, Cheddar & Chutney. A line-up of three Specially Selected festive pies comprises: Slow Cooked British Steak & Stilton; British Beef Brisket Burrito; and Slow Cooked Beef & Merlot Pie.

Urban Eat from Adelie Foods will offer a limited-edition festive range that includes Turkey Feast, Turkey, Bacon & Stuffing, a Piggies Under Blankets sub roll, and a Brie & Cranberry Wrap.

New products from Iceland include Scallop & Champagne Pastry Crowns (2 x 100g), alongside a Twelve Bruschetta Collection and a Roast Parsnip & Portobello Mushroom Pithivier (600g). The Tesco Finest range will include a Christmas Pork Pudding Pie (780g), which retails for £5, while at Morrisons the savoury range includes Christmas Tree Crumpets.

And let’s not forget the Greggs Festive Bake: usually on sale from November, the bake is a lattice pastry filled with chicken breast, sage & onion stuffing and diced sweetcure bacon in a creamy sage sauce with cranberry & red onion relish, and sweetened dried cranberries. It is so popular that it even has its own Facebook page, The Greggs Festive Bake Society.