The History of Panettone. Legends & Stories on a Milanese Tradition.
There are two things that we know for sure about Panettone: first, it's the most popular and recognised sweet from Milan and second, it is incredibly good!
To this day, when we talk about its origins, the circumstances of the creation of Panettone are foggier than an autumn day in Milan. No one can really tell its birthday and there is no official document stating when the famous Panettone was introduced to delight Christmas in Milan.
Of course there are legends and stories linked to this famous sweet and the most popular are the following three.
Ughetto & Adalgisa: a love story
Ughetto is the son of Giacometto of Atellani, a wealthy aristocrat and good friend of Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan that brought Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante to the city. Ughetto is unhappy: he loves a humble girl and his family opposes to their wedding. Her name is Adalgisa, the daughter of Toni the baker.
In the true Milanese spirit, Ughetto decides to put himself to work. He leaves his home, and for little money, he starts working in Toni's bakery. Not knowing much about cooking or baking, he relies on his love for Adalgisa to create new recipes. With Toni's blessing, he combines bread with butter, raisins, and candied citron and it's a success. So much that everyone in Milan starts queuing to buy this new delicacy.
Thanks to this inspired recipe, Toni becomes famous and is able to give his daughter a large dowry to marry... well, Ughetto of course!
The name comes from Pan di Toni (bread of Toni), then panettone.
Ughetta, the baking nun
No star crossed lovers here, but a poor monastery on the outskirts of Milan, where the only love is the one for Jesus.
Donations are scarse and the nuns barely manage to survive the cold and hunger. Sister Ughetta is in charge of cooking for the Christmas dinner. A tricky task since the pantry is almost empty.
The resourceful milanese spirit inspires the timid Ughetta, who decides to take on the challenge, and sifting through the entire kitchen, she creates a sweet focaccia with the few ingredients she can find: flour, butter, yeast, eggs and candied citrons. She blesses the dough by designing a big cross on the top, then places it in the oven, praying for a miracle.
The delicious smell spreads fast and the devotees flow back to the monastery to offer their support. The nuns welcome them with a piece of the sweet focaccia made by Sister Ughetta. The monastery has been saved and Milan has a new recipe for Christmas!
Toni, the smart shop boy
Let's go back to the court of Ludovico il Moro. Christmas is around the corner, cooks and maids relentlessly chop, cook and bake. The Christmas dinner must be perfect, beautiful and unforgettable.
In the confusion, someone keeps placing wood in the oven where the dessert for the night is cooking. Under no supervision, the oven reaches temperatures of a foundry, and the cake is lost. Everyone is devastated and worried: the fury of the Duke can leave them in the streets on a freezing Christmas night, or worst!
While many cry in despair, one takes the matter in hand: his name is Toni. With no time to waste, Toni creates a new sweet with whatever's left in the kitchen. Flour, eggs, yeast, butter, raisins, and candied citron mixed together and thrown in the oven.
The result is a large, dark piece of bread, dotted with raisins, with an incredible citrus aroma. Not having any other choice, the cook decides to serve it to the Duke and his guests.
Everyone awaits, in fear and cold sweats, praying for a miracle. The Duchess then breaks the silence, asking: "what is the name of this delicacy? I never tried something quite so delicious"
The baffled cook stutters: "It doesn't have a name yet. Toni invented it. The name is pan di Toni."
From then on, pan de Toni or panettone, becomes the preferred sweet of the Milanese Christmas.
No document can place the real date of birth of this incredible Milanese tradition but we love these stories so much that it doesn't really matter. One thing is certain: there is no Christmas in Milan without a Panettone on the table and that is indisputable!
To buy Panettone, click here. Thanks to the incredible Grazia for sharing her knowledge of the History of Panettone. When in Milan, make sure to visit the city with someone that loves the city as much as we do... Grazia is definitely one of them!