Panettone is best known throughout the world as an Italian Christmas cake though the name simply translates as "large loaf of bread". This understated name belies a rich history and culture surrounding the sweet bread-like cake which is traditionally made with flour, eggs, butter, yeast, dried raisins, candied oranges, citron and lemon zest.
Although the history is long and varied it always seems to point back to Milan as the place of origin. It is thought to date back as far as the Roman Empire when ancient Romans would make a kind of leavened cake sweetened with honey.
In the Middle Ages, it was common for people to celebrate Christmas by eating a type of rich wheat bread. Up until 1395, Milanese bakers were only allowed to bake with wheat at Christmas due to the scarcity and preciousness of the ingredient.
A document from 1470 from the House of Sforza describes a tradition where a large log was placed on the fire to burn until the Epiphany and three wheat breads were served. The Duke would serve a slice to all guests but would keep a slice aside for the following year as sign of continuity.
These are the stories based in fact; the ones found in legend are a little more interesting! The most popular of these tells the tale of a young nobleman named Ughetto who posed as a lowly bakers assistant to win the heart of the local bakers daughter, Adalgisa. The bakery was losing customers to a a rival baker so Ughetto took it upon himself to improve the bakers' recipe by adding more butter and sugar, as well as candied citron, eggs and raisins. Soon customers were lining up to try the bakers' new creation. The bakers name was Toni and henceforth, it became know as 'pane di Toni' and eventually panettone. Of course Ughetto and Adalgisa lived happily ever after as well.
Another legend also involves a chef's assistant named Toni. Toni was a young boy working in the Duke of Milan's kitchen in the 15th century. The Duke had requested the head chef prepare a Christmas feast for him and his guests, which he did successfully. Unfortunately, however, he left the dessert in the over where it burned to a crisp. Toni kindly offered up a sweet cake he had made for himself in the morning using flour, butter, eggs, lime zest, and raisins as an alternative. The chef served it up to the delight of all who tasted it. All due credit was given to Toni and the dessert was named after him.
A third legend gives credit for panettone Sister Ughetta who was a poor nun living in a convent in Milan. Faced with another grim Christmas, Sister Ughetta invented a new cake. She blessed the dough with the sign of the cross on top with a knife. When baked, the cross opened like a golden cupola with bumps that are still a signature of traditional artisanal panettone to this day.
It wasn't until 1919 however, that Angelo Mott added yeast to the recipe for the first time giving panettone its height and lightness. From this point, the cake quickly spread around the world and gained popularity. These days efforts are being made to obtain Protected Designation of Origin and Denominazione di origine controllata status for this product to certify and protect genuine Italian cakes from growing competition from South America.
At Gelateria Gondola, we have added our own chapter to the story of panettone by adding our own twist. After all, here in Australia, traditional cakes and puddings can be too heavy for the summer heat. What could be better than a light panettone filled with our artisanal gelato?
Our large panettone serves up to 12 people ($70), whilst our mini panettone is perfect for one or two ($12). Both sizes come with up to 2 flavours of your choice from the following gelato: ZUPPA INGLESE (English trifle); SICILIAN CASSATA (ricotta cheese gelato with choc chip, candied fruit and pistachio kernels); NOCCIOLA PIEMONT (Italian hazelnut); VANIGLIA MADAGASCAN (Madagascan vanilla); and CIOCCOLATO BELGA 70% (70% Belgian chocolate). All are brushed with our Alchermes Syrup before being coated in luscious dark chocolate!
We're taking orders now up until 20 December for collection by 3pm on Christmas Eve. Call us on (02) 8084 1714 to order your slice of Italian history, or visit us in store.