The curious history of Panettone

If you’re going to be invited to a dinner during Christmas time in Italy, be prepared to answer a question: pandoro or panettone?

Don’t take the question too light-heartedly: food culture is strongly rooted in the italian DNA, and the rivalry between the two typical Christmas cakes can escalate quickly among the guests of any Italian dinner party. Before you take side: did you know that the original recipe of panettone is 500 years old?

Photo credit: Le Foto di Grimmo/Flickr CC

Italy has many Christmas sweets and threats, but a slice of panettone and a flute of prosecco is the classic way for Italians to welcome the festive season. Panettone is a traditional cake-like bread stuffed with dried raisins, candied orange and lemon peel. The origins of Panettone are in Milan, in the northern Italy. It has a noble and antique birth, and several legends to explain it.

One of the most popular ones tells about Ughetto degli Atellani, a nobleman who lived in 1400’s in Milan. He was in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni who worked in the kitchen of the powerful Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. To win her love, he disguised himself as a baker.

Ludovico Sforza

Ludovico Sforza
Image credit: Wikimedia CC

To impress Adalgisa, he invented a special bread, adding new ingredients: butter, eggs, dried raisins and candied peel. Pan del Ton (Toni’s bread) was a huge success in many ways: Ughetto gets the girl, Duke approves the marriage and Toni’s invention is welcomed with an enthusiastic response. A new dessert is born, called forever Pan del Ton, or: panettone.

The process of making a panettone can take several days and has been improved through the centuries. Nevertheless, the original cylindrical shape and the paper wrap around it (a smart fix to prevent the dough from overflowing) is still the same. Now there’s a stiff competition between different brands: if you’re purchasing a panettone, it’s important to check the ingredients! Prefer butter to margarine, and fresh eggs instead of powered.

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