For chef Alex Lovick, panettone is a singular, holiday obsession. His year-round, day job encompasses being the estate chef at winery Inglenook in Rutherford, but during the holiday season, Lovick becomes a one-man panettone bakery dubbed Namesday Bakeshop. Lovick launched his bakery pop-up at the end of 2018, and despite not having a physical bakery location his panettoni have become a cult favorite. Direct pickups from Lovick typically sell out quickly when he puts the word out via Instagram, and those in the know have tracked down the panettoni at A16 in San Francisco, plus Hudson Greens and Goods in Napa and Napa Valley Olive Oil in St. Helena.
The fervor over Lovick’s panettone is the result of practice and recipe tweaking, spurred by a desire to learn more about the process. “It was one of those things that compelled me — there’s no other way to put it,” Lovick says. “It was a bit of madness, to be honest. And I’m grateful to say that my girlfriend of 10 years is really patient and really hung in there for a lot of emotional roller coasters because it’s insane — it’s a very, very difficult process.”
Lovick’s panettone is a two-stage dough, and producing each loaf requires up to three days. It’s a process that Lovick takes up in his personal time. He preps months in advance to secure ingredients, such as flour from Central Milling, and then he bakes about 100 loaves a week during the holiday season. Lovick calls his panettone a modern version since the flour is highly enriched — “it’s one of the reasons why it’s delicious,” he says — but Lovick is quick to mention that he is very thoughtful about respecting where the product comes from and keeping it as true to form as possible. “The highest compliment I could ever get are customers who say they grew up in Italy and when they have a bite of [my panettone] it reminded them of being back home when they were young,” Lovick says. “If I ever get to a point where I don’t have the support of the Italians, I shouldn’t be doing it anymore.”
As Lovick tells it, Namesday Bakery developed out of his dedication to the panettone process. “I was gonna keep making them either way because I wanted to keep getting better,” he says. Selling was simply the next logical step in getting his mounting panettoni production out the door. Napa Valley Olive Oil Company’s team tried some early versions of the loaf, and eventually offered Lovick a home for the panettoni once it was ready for the public. The company has been a retail partner ever since. This year, the plan is to produce about 500 loaves during the holiday season and Lovick is offering two flavors — a more classic panettone with candied orange and raisins and a triple chocolate version, made with dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and caramelized white chocolate mixed into a dough flavored with ganache, honey, and orange.
Lovick makes baked goods on other holidays as well, offering panettoni on Valentine’s Day as well as colomba pasquale for Easter, since it’s a similar dough. However, he prefers selling it around the holidays rather than year-round. “I have a certain dedication to maintaining things as special during certain parts of the year,” Lovick says. “I appreciate the fact that, myself included, people wait all year until this four-week time — to me that really maintains it as something special and something to look forward to.”
Namesday Bakeshop sells panettoni via A16 in San Francisco, as well as Hudson Greens and Goods at Oxbow Market in Napa and Napa Valley Olive Oil in St. Helena. Follow @NamesdayBakeshop via Instagram for the latest information.