It’s safe to say that we’ve embraced the Italian tradition of a Christmas panettone as one of our own – in fact, we’ve become so taken by the sweet Milanese treat that last year it outsold Christmas pudding. 

This year, the supermarkets are stacked with options: there’s the classic golden fruit-studded variety, plus custard-filled, boozy versions or those coated in chocolate. 

But what makes a good panettone? They famously take three days to make – hence the often high price point – and should be made using an aged sourdough starter, which is then risen three times and slowly baked. 

The result should be yellow-hued, gently domed, tall, and heavy (in weight), but with pockets of air and a delicate orange-vanilla-spiced scent for purists, though today there are all sorts of permutations, even in famous Italian bakeries.

We’ve put this year’s batch of panettone through their paces, using a wide panel of ages and tastes to see how each performed. We were looking for excellence in appearance, flavour, texture and ease of cutting so tested more than 25 panettone side by side to find the one most deserving of a space on your Christmas table. 

So whether you like a plain panettone, a sticky sweet one or are after something a bit different this year, there’s something for everyone in our roundup. Take your pick from these Christmas crackers.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Borgo de Medici gin panettone, 500g: £17.99, Lakeland

This was a big hit with our testers. Made in Italy using the traditional method and injected with gin syrup, this panettone is so beautifully wrapped and tied with ribbon, it already feels like a real treat for Christmas time or a gift for a gin fan. On opening, it smells immediately of gin with some subtle vanilla and spices, though not overpoweringly so. The texture is springy and pillowy soft with just the right level of moistness without being too sticky. It holds its shape well, is easy to slice and tastes subtly of juniper crossed with citrus. Very moreish and so light you’ll easily manage another slice.

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Morrisons the best panettone, 750g: £7, Morrisons

This panettone is hard to fault. It’s a classic variety made with using a starter dough originating from 1964, which is then introduced to lots of butter, plump sultanas and tangy peel. It’s then baked after the proper 72-hour fermentation process resulting in a golden, springy enriched dough that holds its shape and slices well. There’s a slight whiff of alcohol to this one too, which is welcome. Everyone needs a bit of festive cheer, after all. A great all-rounder at an even better price.

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M&S chocolate & hazelnut panettone, 750g: £10, M&S

This hazelnut and chocolate number from M&S felt more like a tea-time cake than a panettone, so die-hard panettone fans on our panel weren’t sold on it. Others enjoyed the fact it is absolutely packed with chocolate chips, injected with swathes of chocolate and hazelnut sauce and then topped with a solid dark chocolate crust – younger testers in particular enjoyed its crowd-pleasing Nutella-esque filling. It was tough to cut due to the crust, but once inside it is a generously filled panettone with a close, bready-cakey texture that will please dessert fans.

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Selfridges Italian salted caramel panettone, 1kg: £25.99, Selfridges

This giant panettone was created by the Filippi family in Veneto and is made using swirls of salted caramel within the traditional golden dough. It looks very luxurious, but surprisingly it divided our testers: some found it too sticky, but those that loved it really loved it. While it is a riff on the classic, it doesn’t feel too far removed from what a traditional panettone should be: it still smells as it should (sweet, festive, citrusy) and in our opinion the salted caramel is subtle enough that it only improves things. It is sticky, yes, but is sturdy enough to hold its own despite the weight of the caramel. A hit for the sweeter toothed.

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Carluccio’s panettone allo spritz, 950g: £19.95, Carluccio’s

Another crazily embellished panettone for the list: this Carluccio’s Aperol spritz-inspired number is slathered in bittersweet dark chocolate and dusted with sugar crystals. It’s quite a thing. No, this isn’t a traditional panettone in any sense, but it does feel extremely Italian thanks to the Aperol cream, which works surprisingly well and feels very Christmassy despite its growing reputation here as a summer drink.

The chocolate proves divisive – and perhaps too much here – but it’s easier to cut into than the other chocolate-topped examples we’ve tried. The bread itself is divine (Carluccio’s panettones do tend to be decent each year) and has a good balance between sticky sweetness and sharp citrus to cut through. It would make a good centrepiece too. We’re fans.

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Crosta & Mollica hand wrapped apricot panettone, 500g: £11, Ocado

A slightly more diminutive festive fancy from Crosta & Mollica, this has a finer crumb than most, though is still light and airy and has a beautiful honeyed vanilla scent and flavour to it, alongside the subtle sweetness of apricot. There are nice big chunks of candied apricot inside and plenty of butter to make this feel indulgent. This would be perfect toasted for breakfast with a cappuccino, or equally eaten by the chunk throughout the festive period. Very tasty and prettily presented too.

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Holland & Barrett vegan friendly panettone, 750g: £6.99, Holland & Barrett

You can often tell a vegan treat a mile off, so for this Holland & Barrett example to stand up to close inspection, when so much of what is enjoyable about panettone is down to the eggs and butter, is impressive. The texture is not 100 per cent perfect but it’s damn close; it’s slightly less pliable and springy than the usual but considering this is vegan, we’ll take it.

The taste is excellent – rich, lemony and studded with raisins and Sicilian candied peel. Coconut features in the ingredients list in oil and cream form, but we’re happy to report its flavour was imperceptible. It also comes as a mini 100g version, which is handy for token vegans or allergy sufferers who want to partake in the festive fun.

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Heston from Waitrose black forest panettone, 750g: £14, Waitrose

Is this a panettone? We really weren’t sure. It’s so heavy with boozy kirsch and sweet cherries on the inside, then finished with a thick topping of dark chocolate and tangy sour cherries that it’s almost unrecognisable as a panettone. But look closely and indeed there is some of that light golden Italian bread texture in there.

That’s not to say it’s not delicious. As with most of the Heston range, it’s a glorious mix of flavours (we particularly loved the genius sour cherries) but some testers were unhappy with it claiming to be a panettone – those who don’t love panettone normally thought this was excellent though. It’s a Christmassy treat, that’s for sure.

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Loison classic panettone in tin, 750g: £26.50, Sous Chef

This one is for the real panettone purists. The sourcing of every ingredient in this Venetian treat is impeccable, from the butter and milk made in the Italian mountains to the Sicilian candied oranges and real Madagascan vanilla. Made using a traditional sourdough starter, the dough is leavened for 72 hours, then slow-baked in a wood-fired oven until it takes on the ideal Milanese dome shape, before being packed up prettily.

We love the classic flavour, which features lots of glacé citrus and fruits in a perfectly airy, slightly sour yet sweet crumb, but we also enjoyed the addition of sharp, aromatic Ciaculli mandarin, which is just asking to be taken with a snifter of whisky at Christmas.

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Tesco Finest classic fruited panettone, 750g: £5, Tesco

This is a great value large panettone from Tesco’s Finest range, made by a second-generation family-run Italian bakery. Using a 50-year-old mother dough that has been nurtured daily by expert bakers, the slow ferment makes for a softly sweet dough that puffs up into the traditional peaked shape. This panettone is almost identical in looks and flavour to the Morrisons panettone: both are buttery, tangy and lavishly studded with vine fruits and candied peel.

This Tesco offering is slightly more orange-scented, and has a higher ratio of candied peel, but we’d happily scoff either. A festively indulgent breakfast when toasted, or simply sliced as an accompaniment to an afternoon cuppa.

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The verdict: Panettone

We’ve plumped for the Lakeland gin panettone as our testers felt it was the best of both worlds, with its very traditional feel yet fun and modern touch of the gin syrup. We were also extremely impressed with the near-identical Morrisons and Tesco panettone, which were incredible value for a top-notch authentic product. For anyone looking to splash the cash or give a beautiful gift, then we’d direct you to the Loison panettone.

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