The Story of Panettone: How the Sweet Italian Bread Saved Christmas

If you happen to visit Italy during Christmas holidays there is no mistake that one thing would pop up anywhere you go: Italian sweet Christmas bread Panettone. Starting November, this Italian cake fills the racks of every shop that offers some kind of food: from big supermarkets to small delis and bakeries all over Italy. The data show that Italian food manufacturing companies and bakeries produce 117 million panettones and pandoro cakes every Christmas. Italy’s population is about 60 million so we’ll let you do the math on the love Italians have for panettone! Home baked Panettone as a gift is also very appreciated if you are visiting relatives and friends during the holiday season and many families can’t imagine Christmas day without this soft fruity bread.  
Panettone has preserved its distinctive cylindrical shape through the years and this tall cupola shape is actually one of the reasons behind its softness and fluffiness. Panettone is usually 12-15cm high and weighs about 1kg. It is thought that the original recipe contained only candied orange, lemon zest and raisins in addition to the dough, but today you can find many different kinds – with chocolate chips, even pears and other fruit or white chocolate.  

The 3 Panettone Stories

We can say with certainty that this famous Italian delicacy was born in Milan but the stories of its origin are all different, poetic and quite interesting in their respective plots. It is believed that Panettone was first made sometime during the late Middle Ages. Now lay back comfortably, pour yourself a glass of wine - it’s story time! 

Baking for Love

One of the most popular and enduring tales of panettone is actually about the force of love and overcoming obstacles. But let’s start from the beginning.  
Once upon a time (actually 1400s) in Milan, lived a nice fellow called Ughetto degli Atellani, a son of a Milanese nobleman. He spent his days just like the rest of the rich Milanese youth before Instagram: visiting opera, dancing and having fun at various ballrooms, going hunting and – falling in love. Unfortunately for his family, Ughetto fell desperately in love with a poor girl Adalgisa – a daughter of the local baker called Toni. Of course, the Atellani family forbade any thought of this relationship as they considered that the poor daughter of the local baker was not a good marriage prospect for their noble son. Also, Adalgisa had to work nights in the bakery so secret midnight meetings were out of the question. Understandably, Ughetto was crushed by the heartache and decided that he would not sit idle and obey the rules. In order to spend more time with his beloved Adalgisa, he disguised himself as a baker and took the night job at her father Toni’s bakery. He knew approximately zero things about baking (and having a job, for that matter) but he was an eager and fast learner and his love for Adalgisa was his guiding light. One day, just in time before Christmas, he wanted to impress Adalgisa and improve the profit of the modest little bakery by making a different kind of bread than the usual. They had no money for some lavish ingredients so Ughetto, being a nice guy, decided to sell his two hunting falcons. For the money he got for falcons he bought butter, eggs, raisins and oranges – all extremely luxurious ingredients for a local bakery in the Middle Ages. Under Toni’s supervision, he added some butter, eggs, raisins and candied orange peel to the regular dough and the sweet perfection of Panettone was born. The bread became a huge success in Toni’s bakery and naturally, everybody called it “Pane del Toni” or Toni’s bread which later developed in Panettone. The fame and glory that Toni’s bread saw came with a significant bump in sales for the bakery and Toni was finally able to provide a nice and lofty dowry for his daughter. When the poor Adalgisa became moderately rich, finally even the Atellani family gave their permission for the marriage of Ughetto and Adalgisa. Panettoni remained one of the favourite Christmas delicacies on the festive menus throughout Italy and it is said that you can tell that Christmas is coming only when you start seeing people carrying Panettone in their shopping bags.

Want to hear more stories about this Italian Christmas delicacy? Read part two of our Panettone story and discover what connects Leonardo DaVinci with Panettone and why many people cut the shape of cross on top before it goes in the oven!



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