panettone christmas

Panettone: the tradition of Christmas time

Do you prefer pandoro or panettone at Christmas time?

This is the most common question during the Christmas holidays. Panettone is a typical dessert of the Christmas tradition. It prepared with raisins, candied fruit, orange peel and cedar. Since 2005, a specification protects the traditional recipe of panettone and its ingredients. There are many traditions that tell of the birth of panettone, some more credible than others.

Panettone: a bit of history

As I said before, there are many legends that speak of the birth of Panettone. One of these specifies how the word Panettone derives from Pan de’ Toni, a scullery boy from Ludovico il Moro’s kitchen. In fact, according to the story, on Christmas Eve the Sforza head chef burned the cake prepared for the Christmas banquet. For this reason, Toni decided to work his dough of natural yeast with flour, eggs, raisins, sugar and candied fruit. The result was so good that the duke named the cake Pan de Toni (bread of Toni), in honor of the creator. 

Another of the legends concerns Ughetto degli Atellani, a falconer from Milan, who fell in love with Algisa, the beautiful baker’s daughter. To be close to her, he went to work at her father’s bakery. To surprise her father, he tried to invent a dessert. He kneaded flour, eggs, butter, honey and raisins. It was such a success that soon the guys married and lived happily ever after.

Another legend is about Nun Ughetta, cook of a convent in Milan, who decided to make a cake for Christmas for the nuns. She used the few ingredients available in the convent pantry, adding candied fruit and raisins. The dessert was surprising and in a short time even the inhabitants of Milan began to make offers in order to taste it.

Panettone: the real history

The legends amplify the collective imagination. They are part of the traditions invented between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. The last two legends contain clues regarding the ingredients of the panettone. In fact, Ughetto and Ughetta are names linked to the local vocabulary to say raisins (ughett).

The true origin of Panettone lies in the medieval custom of enriching the daily bread during the Christmas period. Not surprisingly, a late fifteenth-century manuscript by Giorgio Valagussa attests to the custom of celebrating the so-called rite of the log. On the evening of Christmas Eve, in fact, the owner of the house inserted a large log of wood in the fireplace. In the meantime three large loaves of wheat were served. The head of the family served a slice of it to all the diners, saving one for next year. According to the first Milanese (dialect of Milan)-Italian dictionary, in 1606 the Panettone was a Pan Grosso (a big bread). 

You can find the oldest attestation of a Christmas Bread in an expense register of the Borromeo College of Pavia. It told about a purchase of breads to serve to students in the Christmas celebration. In the nineteenth century, however, during the Austrian occupation, panettone became the protagonist of a very particular habit. The governor of Milan, Ficquelmont used to offer it to Prince Metternich as a personal gift.

Panettone: the tradition of the day 

Usually in Milan people us to keep a portion of the panettone having lunch during Christmas. It is used to eat it stale on February 3rd during the feast of Saint Biangio. In fact, this saint is the protector of the throat and they make this tradition for a good omen. So, on this day the shopkeepers sell the so-called panettone di San Biagio, the last remaining from the holiday period.

Panettone: what is the traditional one?

Panettone, as the name implies, was a large bread enriched with raisins and candied fruits. Subsequently, with the advent of industry and laboratories, they proposed more and more variations. You can find it glazed, without candied fruit and without raisins, with cream, with chocolate filling. However, the preparation remains the same: it is always a naturally leavened baked product.

At Christmas there are those who eat panettone and those who eat pandoro.

What is your favorite?

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