Christmas is an important holiday for Italian families and the Christmas dinner on the 26th of December is a separate special celebration with many traditional dishes, one of them is Panettone.
Panettone is a sweet type of loaf of bread filled with raisins, candied orange and citrus peel. It is a typical Italian Christmas cake, originally from Milan but can be found in every corner of the country. Panettone has become a ritual in many homes where it is a welcomed guest after each meal. Panettone is not just a cake – it is a highly regarded tradition with a rich history.
The origin of the Panettone covers with numerous legends but its flavor and texture has remained the same over the centuries.
One of the popular legends is that of a nobleman and a falconer named Ughetto, who fell in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a baker whose business had been experiencing difficult times. Ughetto’s family weren’t pleased with his choice and didn’t let him marry her. In an attempt to continue seeing Adalgisa, Ughetto in disguise took a job at the bakery where one day he purchased butter and sugar and added it to the bakery’s bread mix. Ughetto’s sweet bread became popular and the ailing bakery soon began to see better times. To continue pleasing his beloved, one day near Christmas, he added candied peel and raisins to the mix and the popularity of his bread exceeded everything the bakery had ever produced before – in fact it became so popular that his family relented and gave their permission for the couple to marry.
The second legend has to do with the name itself, panettone, which would literally translate in English as ‘bread of Toni.’ It is said that at the 15th century court of Duke Ludovico, during a Christmas celebration, the dessert that the chefs had planned to serve at the end of the meal was accidentally burnt. In despair, the head chef took the advice of his young assistant Toni, who suggested that he serve the cake just the same, justifying the burnt crust as an integral part of the dessert. Hence, the birth of ‘pan del Toni’ (Toni’s bread) is a forerunner of today’s panettone.
One theory suggests that the word derives from the Milanese, “pan del ton”, meaning “cake of luxury” and the actual translation is ‘big bread,’ from ‘Panetto’ meaning dough and the suffix ‘one’ meaning large.
Now let’s move from legends to facts. In 1395 in Milan the new decree came out permitting all the bakeries to make the so called “Pan del ton” in Christmas when the white bread was only accessible to the poor community of the city. This is more likely when the Panettone tradition started.
In the 19th century it was perfected with such ingredients as eggs and sugar. The main and sacred ingredient was raisin as it was believed to be the symbol of prosperity for the coming year.
Panettone, as we know it today, was only manufactured in 1919 by Angelo Motta, when he opened his first bakery in Milan. Angelo Motta the founder of one of Italy’s most famous confectionery brands, radically changed the traditional panettone by adding yeast and more raisins and achieved huge success on the market. And It was Angelo Motto who gave the panettone this airy and domed shape. Other companies which produce Panettone and have been dominating the market scene for many years are Balocco, Vergani, Melegatti and many more.
Nowadays Panettone is a universally loved dessert which will garnish any Christmas table. For Italians Panettone is not just a cake it means to be faithful to the traditions and a sign of the staunch patriotism for this gastronomic delight!
No matter whether you are in Italy or in Dubai you should try the most delicious delicacy served with whipped cream, fresh berries and drizzled in dark chocolate and the succulent and velvety Panettone will overwhelm you for good! It will be an Italian way to wish a happy holiday season!