Panettone: The legends around Italy’s festive fruit cake and how it’s made

Panettone is the perfect Christmas sweet treat if you like your cakes light and fluffy. These days it is just as common to serve up panettone at a Christmas meal as it is mince pies or Christmas pudding. Today, more than 117 million panettone are sold in Italy and abroad.

The cylindrical sweetbread from Milan, with its dome shaped top, dates back as the Middle Ages when to celebrate Christmas, people would replace their daily bread with a richer recipe.

A popular legend tells of a nobleman and falconer named Ughetto, who fell in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a baker whose business had hit upon hard times. Ughetto’s family were unhappy with his choice and forbade him to marry such a lowly girl. In a bid to continue seeing his lover, Ughetto in disguise took a job at the bakery where one day after selling some of his falcons, 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, which pleased Adalgisa. To continue pleasing her, one day near Christmas, he added candied peel and raisins to the mix and the popularity of his bread surpassed 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.

Another legend would suggest how panetonne got its name. In fact it puts the recipe down to human error. One Christmas eve in the 15th Century, the Duke of Milan held a banquet. At the last moment, however, his chef accidentally burnt the dessert he had been preparing – and didn’t have the time nor the ingredients to make another.

Fortunately, a scullery boy called Toni approached the chef saying that he had made his family a cake using some leftovers and offered to the chef to serve it to the Duke instead. The dessert was a success and the Duke called the chef to congratulate him in front of his guests. However, unable to take the credit, the chef told everyone who had really made the bread and that’s how it became known, Panettone – the bread of Toni (pane di Toni).

Panettone can be made at home if you can spare the time – to get the bread light and fluffy, the dough needs to be proofed several times. Fortunately, panettone is widely available and you can pick up a decent panettone from a grocery store or supermarket.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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