A Twist on Fruit Cake: Pan del Marinaio (Sailor’s bread)

Pan del marinaio1 Fruit cakes are synonymous with Christmas and ever since my mom sent me Carol Field’s ‘The Italian Baker’ I’ve had my eye on the ‘festive’ breads section.  There are a number of recipes for holiday sweet breads in it, including…fruit breads.  While thumbing through it the other day I came across a fruit filled bread recipe from Genoa: pan del marinaio, or sailor’s bread.  I don’t think it is particularly a Christmas bread but it looked to be a nice twist on the traditional fruit cake.

There’s not much of a description for this particular bread except it’s from Genoa, fruity, and sailors liked it because it would keep for a long time (hmm, just like fruit cake).  There’s no yeast involved so as long as you have the ingredients this bread is a snap to bake.  Like last week’s lemon squares, you can have the dough ready to bake in the time it takes to pre-heat the oven.

Although pan del marinaio is a bread, it’s more like a fruit and nut filled butter cookie or shortcake.  I was a little hesitant about the fennel seeds in the recipe but they actually work well, adding some spice balance to the citrus and raisins.  I made two small loaves but you could probably make one larger loaf if you wanted.  No idea how they figure this bread keeps for a long time since one loaf I made disappeared in less than 24 hours and I don’t anticipate the second one making it much further!  Even though I’m offering this as an alternative to fruit cake, pan del marinaio is a great breakfast bread or as something sweet to go with your afternoon espresso.

Pan del Marinaio

  • 12 Tbs unsalted butter at room temp
  • ⅓ C sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 C raisins
  • ⅓ C chopped candied citron
  • ⅓ C chopped candied orange peel
  • 2 Tbs pine nuts
  • 1 ½ Tbs fennel seeds
  • 2 ¼ C flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbs milk
  • 2 Tbs Marsala

Pre-heat the oven to 360°F.

Cream the butter and sugar together (either in your mixer or by hand).  Slowly add in ¾ of the beaten eggs, reserving ¼ for egg wash.  Mix until well blended.

Mix the raisins, citron, orange peel, 1 Tbs of pine nuts, fennel seeds, and baking powder with the flour.

Add half of the flour-fruit-nut mix to the butter mix and combine thoroughly.  Add the milk and Marsala, combine.  Add the remaining flour mix.  Knead for a couple of minutes until the dough can hold its own shape.

Cut the dough in half, make two logs, then form balls out of the logs making sure to patch over any cracks.  Kind of like making a big dough meatball.  Sprinkle each ball with flour and place on an oiled or parchment lined baking sheet.  Cut a tic-tac-toe pattern in the tops and brush both with the remaining egg wash.  Sprinkle remaining pine nuts on top of loaves.

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes.



  1. John Poast says:

    Love it. How about a holiday drink menu. From start to finish. — Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

    On Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 9:26 PM, The Roaming GastroGnome

    1. Thanks! It’d just be drivel by the time I got to the end of the list!

  2. chef mimi says:

    I still don’t love love candied fruits, but this recipe is very tempting…

    1. Ha! It’s much better than fruit cake!

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s