Some Italians don’t like it and they’d rather have a slice of its competitor, the pandoro. Others don’t like only the candied fruit, and take them off, one by one.
You can either buy it at the supermarket or in a fancy pastry shop. Some Italians love the chocolate one, others consider it a heresy. If you are Italian, it doesn’t matter which of the previous sentences you consider true.
All it matters is that, during Christmas, you have at least a couple of panettoni next to your Christmas Tree. And every Italian knows he has to say thank you to the city of Milan for this. Why? Simply because the panettone was invented here!
In the eleventh century in Milan, during the Christmas holidays, the tradition wanted three large loaves to be cooked, different form the ones people were accustomed to eat during the year. The pater familias used to cut the loaves into slices, offering them to his family, and keeping one aside for the following year, as a symbol of continuity.
These loaves were prepared with a special, precious dough, and realized only during Christmas. Until the arrival of chef and entrepreneur Motta, in fact, all the ovens of Milan were allowed to bake these loaves only during this period of the year, as homage to their customers.
This is all true if we don’t take into consideration the Rosti bakery, the wealthiest in town located near Piazza Mercanti.
History teaches us that it was the aforementioned Angelo Motta who started the cooking of the special loaves outside the Christmas Holidays.
The legend, instead, tells us that one of these special loaves was, indeed, the panettone and that it was invented by a baker called Toni. Cooking boy in the court of Ludovico il Moro, Toni was able to avoid a Christmas crisis when the cook burned the dessert and he suggested his to be served instead.
He had just created a cake made of dough, candied fruits and raisins: the dessert was such a success that it got its’ inventor’s name, pan del Toni, from which panettone. Another legends sees the knight Ughetto degli Antellari falling in love with the Toni’s daughter, a well-known baker. In order to conquer his daughter’s love, Ughetto prepared a cake, which greatly surprised Toni: he agreed to the marriage and started producing the cake.
Credits photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Panettone_in_prison_kitchen_in_Padova,_Italy_(15600038742).jpg
It does not matter if it was Toni or Ughetto: we thank them both and we get ourselves ready to taste one of the yummiest cakes ever made. Panettone is born low. The amount of wheat and butter it used to contain was low and, therefore, it got its flat shape.
It’s again Angelo Motta who revolutionized it. Motta had to cook several panettoni for the Russian community of Milan: to make its product truly unique, he decided to wrap it with paper straw, giving it a vertical thrust. Today, the pastry shops cook them both and you can still choose to buy either the Motta’s version or the original one… or both!
If you have never been to Milan, the name of San Biagio will be unknown to you. If you will be in Milan during Christmas, instead, you’ll have to make his acquaintance.
In Milan, the tradition of keeping a piece of panettone aside has been preserved since the eleventh century. Today, however, people don’t wait until the following year to unwrap it, but only until February 3rd , the day of the St. Biagio holiday.
This is considered as a propitiatory gesture against winter sore throats and colds.
So, if you are in Milan for Christmas, eat some panettone but make sure you don’t eat it all or the cold will come hunting you! On the other side, if you happen to be in Milan on February 3rd , remember that the pastry shops sell their San Biagio panettone at a super low price!
Credits cover photo Panettone: www.flickr.com/photos/15216811@N06/5300955223