The Many Legends of a Popular Italian Christmas Dessert: Panettone
There's a few things we know for sure about panettone. It originated in Milan, Italy, but it wasn't hugely popular until the early 20th century when it started to be commercially produced and sold far and wide. Today it's the most popular Italian Christmas dessert, and you're sure to find it on the dessert table, or served with coffee for breakfast, in any Italian family's home.
What we don't know for sure about the panettone? How, precisely, the Italian recipe came to be. There's a variety of legends about the dessert's origins; here are just a few of the most popular.
A Love Story
Naturally, one of the most popular panettone origin stories involves a forbidden love story. This legend involves a nobleman and hawk breeder named Ughetto who fell in love with the baker's daughter, a beautiful woman named Adalgisa. Since their families didn't approve of their love, they often met in secret. But those meetings became increasingly difficult as Adalgisa was forced to work long hours in her family bakery.
To see her more often, Ughetto disguised himself and started working in the bakery. When he saw how the bakery was struggling financially, he created a bread for them to sell, and used higher-quality ingredients -- particularly of butter and sugar -- that he was able to buy by selling his hawks. As the bread became popular, he added more ingredients, like citron, and come Christmas time, he added raisins. When the bread became a huge success -- and other bakers started to copy the recipe -- he revealed his identity, and the couple lived happily ever after.
A nun's story
A less popular but more perhaps believable story revolves around a nun by the very-similar name of Ughetta. Nuns, it is most definitely known, are actually heavily responsible for many popular Italian desserts, as they've made cookies and pastries for centuries as a way to support their convents.
So, as this story goes, Ughetta lived in a poor convent who were expecting a very poor and sad Christmas time. To try something new, Ughetta created a new dessert, a panettone, which she finished by tracing the shape of a cross on top. The bread, made with fruit, cheered up the convent, and it quickly became a popular treat.
The origins of the word 'panettone'
Another legend revolves around a large Christmas celebration in Duke Ludovico's court. The chef burnt the dessert during the huge banquet and was growing frantic, as everyone was demanding dessert. A scullery boy named Toni came to the rescue with his own dessert that he had made from the scraps of the baker's original dessert. He had simply added some of the ingredients the panettone is now famous for, such as raisins, eggs, sugar, citron. Everyone loved it, and the chef gave credit where credit was due. Everyone began shouting ,"el pan del Toni" and the panettone was born… if that's the legend you choose to believe!
Add a bit of Italy to your Christmas celebrations this year by making a panettone of your own with this recipe. Or visit Italy, such as our Christmas vacation to our culinary vacation Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun, to learn about more holiday food traditions!
By Liz Hall