From medioeval Christmas
wheat breads to Panettone
Does the name “Panettone” derive from Pan de Toni? According to tradition, Toni, lowly scullion at the service of Ludovico il Moro, was the inventor of one of the most typical sweet of the Italian tradition. On Christmas Eve, the chef of the Sforza burned the cake prepared for the feast. Toni decided to offer the mother yeast that he had kept aside for himself for Christmas. He kneaded it several times with flour, eggs, sugar, raisins and candied fruit, until obtaining a soft and leavened dough. The result was a great success and Ludovico il Moro called it Pan de Toni to honor its inventor.
Other legends attribute the invention to other creative pastry such as Ughetto degli Atellani or Sister Ughetta. These legends, as the one of Toni, date back to end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. A curiosity: Ughetto and Ughetta are names quite similar to the word designating raisins in Milanese dialect: “ughett”.
The true origin of the cake can be found in the Middle Ages when people used to celebrate Christmas with a bread richer than the one ate every day. A manuscript of late fifteenth-century written by George Valagussa, tutor for Sforza family, reports the tradition of celebrating the so-called “rito del ciocco”. On Christmas Eve a large piece of wood was placed in the fireplace and three wheat bread were served on the table. Wheat was a precious ingredient at that time. The head of the family served a slice to all guests, and a slice was kept aside for the following year as sign of continuity.
Another historical tradition supports origin of the cake from the Christmas wheat bread. Up to 1395 all bakeries in Milan (except for Rosti bakery, supplier of the richest families) were allowed to bake wheat bread just for Christmas in order to give it as a gift to their customers. The tradition of eating wheat bread at Christmas is therefore quite ancient. It is not surprising to find this tradition in many other Italian and European towns. Anyway, in Milan the tradition brought to invention of panettone.
Certain phases of this long evolution are documented. In 1606, according to the first Italian-Milanese dictionary (Varon milanes), the “Panaton de Danedaa” was a big bread, like the one baked at Christmas. Francesco Cherubini gives us a richer description in his famous Milanese-Italian dictionary in five volumes (printed between 1839 and 1856, the third M-Q volume is dated 1841). The Panattón or Panatton de Natal was a kind of wheat bread enriched with butter, eggs, sugar and raisins (ughett). It was made all the year round in small size (Panattonin) and in big size just for Christmas. In the countryside Panatton was made with corn flour and enriched with apple slices and grapes.
The first reference to yeast is dated 1853 and can be found in “Il nuovo cuoco Milanese economico”, cookbook written by Giovanni Felice Luraschi. Candied fruit (citron) are cited in “Trattato di cucina, pasticceria moderna” (1854) written by Giovanni Vialardi, chef of Savoy family. The presence of the cake in a book written in Piedmont in the nineteenth century proves that it is well known since antiquity in the region chosen by Flamigni as site for its production plant.
Panettone is available in two shapes: low and tall. Low panettone was born first, but it evolved thanks to the tall one.