Christmas is almost here and people from all over the world are preparing to celebrate the festive season with their own distinct traditions. Some people at Christmas put up a tree and decorate it, others prefer to make the Nativity scene, someone turns on a thousand lights and other people put a garland out of the door. Someone celebrate Christmas Eve, others have lunch on 25th December. The adults exchange greetings and children wait for the gifts from Santa Claus. At Christmas everyone has their own habits to make the holiday special, but there is one thing in common: on the Italian tables the panettone can’t miss! With its soft dough, fragrant, raisins and candied fruit, it welcomes the Christmas season.
This classic Italian sweet bread is a favorite treat on Christmas Day. Although the delicacy originated in Milan, it is now a traditional holiday treat in both Italy and in the world. But ever wondered how panettone is made? Let’s discover together the history and the making of right here!
Panettone: The history of Italy’s favourite Christmas sweet
There are several legends behind the origins of panetton. These legends, although not very reliable and thus quite useless to establish with precision the origins of this Christmas dessert, undoubtedly have the merit of greatly enhancing its charm.
Many different legends
Panettone hails from Milan and the most famous legend associated with panettone takes place in the 15th century at the court of Ludovico Il Moro at Christmas time. The court’s chef was tasked with preparing a sumptuous Christmas dinner for the local nobility. However, he forgot the dessert in the oven, causing it to burn.
Desperate, he didn’t know what to do, when one of his helpers, Toni, came up with a solution. He said that in the morning he had prepared a dessert with what was left in the pantry – some flour, butter, eggs, citron zest and raisins. The chef was welcome to use it. Hesitant, the chef brought the dessert to the table and spied on the guests’ reaction from behind a curtain.
When the Duke and its invitees asked the name of the delicious pastry they had, the cook said: “El pan de Toni” (Tony’s bread). And from “pan de Toni,” a legendary cake was born: Panettone.
Another nice story, though unlikely, is that which recounts the love of a young boy, who to impress Algisa, the beautiful daughter of a baker, created this sweet and fragrant bread.
Whatever its origins, we do know that a decree issued in 1395 permitted all bakeries in Milan to make the so-called ‘Pan del ton’ at Christmas: a wheat bread that was only accessible to poorer members of the community during the season’s festive Christmas meal.
Panettone: a sweet symbol of Christmas
It was in Italy, during the 19th century, that it began to be called “Panettone“ to the traditional sweet dough that was prepared on festive dates. The translation would be something like “big bread“. Then it was further enhanced with the addition of nourishing ingredients like eggs and sugar. Raisins, on the other hand, were always a staple ingredient because, according to common belief, they symbolize prosperity for the coming year.
But it was only in 1919 that Panettone became widely available in Italy, thanks to Angelo Motta that started producing it on a large scale. Furthermore, he introduced the triple leaving, giving the cake the tall dome shape. Until that time, its shape was flatter and its dough more compact.
A few years later, his competitor Gioacchino Alemagna adapted the recipe, turning the artisanal sweet bread into industrial production. Panettone became cheaper, allowing everyone to have one on the table for Christmas in Italy and to all those Italians who started seeking a new life in other countries worldwide.
Since the 1950s, the panettone of the large distribution can be found throughout Italy, while in Milan remain many traditional artisan laboratories. Today it has acquired international fame and is also exported as a sweet symbol of Christmas in many countries.
Panettone, a product protected by law
In 2003, the tradition of panettone is regulated by a product specification that sets the ingredients and their minimum percentages. The true traditional panettone must have on its packaging the Pasticceri Committee of the Milanese Tradition‘s logo and the inscription “Pastry product, to be consumed fresh by …” in addition to the indication “without preservatives”.
The traditional panettone ingredients provided by the product specification are: water, flour from producers recognized by the Committee, sugar, fresh eggs and/or pasteurized yolks, milk, cocoa butter, butter, sultanate raisins, candied orange peel, candied cedar, natural yeast, and salt. Also other permitted ingredients are honey, malt, and extract of malt, vanilla and natural aromas.
Today there are very specific rules for a confectionery product to be called “Panettone”. A ministerial decree dated 22 July 2005 establishes the ingredients and characteristics of some traditional Italian desserts including the panettone. The classic Milanese must be soft and obtained by natural fermentation from sour dough. It must be made with wheat flour, sugar and eggs, but with a higher percentage of egg yolks than egg whites. Then raisins, candied citrus peel, butter, natural yeast and salt.
How is it made?
Panettone is a traditional Italian sweets. Its leavening is natural and its soft paste is enriched with candied fruit, orange, cedar, and raisins. In addition, it has a similar texture to cake, but is definitely a bread. It’s one of the lightest, fluffiest loaves of sweet bread you’ll ever have the pleasure of tasting. This is because above all, it’s extremely eggy and can take up to three days to prepare properly.
Moreover panettone has a domed shape, with a soft and airy interior beneath a dark exterior. It’s prepared by baking a leavened dough made of flour, water, eggs, butter, with the addition of raisin and little pieces of candied fruit. The cake dough requires several hours to make because it must be cured in a way similar to sourdough, rising and falling three times before being baked.
Making a traditional panettone the Italian way is a lengthy procedure, but necessary to get top results, and all ingredients must be of excellent quality. The proving process alone can take several days, allowing the flavours to mature and the distinctive fluffy texture to develop. It is then baked in precise temperature-controlled ovens and, straight after cooking, hung upside-down to cool, which stretches the warm cake, giving it its characteristic dome shape.
Today panettone can be eaten “pure”, as is traditional, but also filled in various ways. Among the various creams used to enrich it, the top choices are chocolate, custard and gianduia (chocolate and hazelnut). In any case, whether it is low or high, with raisins or candied fruit, covered with chocolate or served with cream, the Panettone is still the star of our Christmas!
You can’t miss having a slice of this traditional sweet bread if you decide to celebrate Christmas the Italian way.
Here we leave you an easy recipe for panetton so that you´re inspired to prepare it with your family this Christmas.
Citrus Panettone Recipe
By Deborah Mele
The recipe following takes about 1 hour to prepare and cooks in 1 hour. Yield: makes 1 large or two small loaves. You can use special Panettone paper forms, or an appropriately high sided casserole or soufflé pans. Lemons and oranges add a citrus note to traditional Panettone.
FOR THE SPONGE:
- 1 Package Active Dry Yeast
- 1/4 Cup Warm water
- 1/2 Cup Unbleached All-purpose Flour
- 1 Cup Golden Raisins
- Juice Of 1 Large Orange
- 5 Tablespoons Soft Butter
- 3 Large Eggs
- 4 Large Egg Yolks
- 3/4 Cup Sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Fiori di Sicilia (Sicilian Lemon Extract), Or 1 Teaspoon Lemon Extract And 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 5+ Cups All-purpose Flour
- Finely Chopped Zest Of 1 Orange
- Finely Chopped Zest Of 1 Lemon
- 1/2 Cup Candied Citron
- In a medium bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water, and stir to mix.
- Add the flour and mix until you have a loose dough.
- Cover, and let this sponge rise for at least 4 hours, but no more than 8.
- While you are waiting on your sponge, place the orange juice and raisins in a small pot.
- Bring the juice to a boil, then remove from the heat, cover the pot and let the raisins plump in the warm juice.
- After your sponge has risen, place 5 cups of the flour onto a bread board or counter and make a crater in the center.
- In a bowl, mix together the butter, sugar, eggs, egg yolks, extracts, sponge, grated zests and 1/4 cup of warm water.
- Strain the raisins, and add the juice to the egg mixture.
- Begin to slowly pour the liquid mixture into the center of the flour, and using a fork begin to mix the flour into the liquid from the sides.
- Continue until you have added all of the liquid.
- Add the raisins and citron and begin to knead with your hands for about 8 minutes or until you have a smooth, elastic dough, using a little additional flour if your mixture is a little wet.
- Butter a large bowl, and place the Panettone dough into the bowl.
- Cover, and let sit to rise in a warm place for about 6 hours.
- Butter your chosen mold and then punch down the dough.
- Knead once again for a few minutes and then shape into a ball.
- Place in your prepared pan, cover and let rise again for 45 minutes.
- While it is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cut an X or slash into the top of the Panettone, and bake it until it is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
- If you notice that the Panettone is browning too much while baking, place a sheet of foil over the top.
- Remove from the oven and let cool.
- Once completely cooled, store in an airtight bag until you are ready to enjoy it.
Good appetite and happy holidays!
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