The most popular Christmas pudding is undoubtedly Panettone, the typical Italian cake born in Milan nowadays available throughout the world, which we will soon find on our tables neatly decorated for the holidays. A cylinder-like cake with a dome as top, it’s made with a simple recipe of water, flour, butter and eggs, to which you can add candied fruits — orange and cedar peel and raisins. The result is normally called candied Panettone.
The origin of Panettone is still a mystery. There are many legends, but none has ever been confirmed. Some talk about a sweet bread that used to be prepared for Saint Biagio’s day on 3 February of every year to protect oneself from colds and flu. Till today it’s tradition to keep a slice of Panettone to eat on this dat as an antidote to winter bugs.
Another story tells of a young kitchen apprentice called Toni who, after an cooking incident made him burn the restaurant’s dessert, improvised a new cake with the ingredients that were available. The cake was a roaring success and it was name ‘Pan de Toni’, becoming later Panettone.
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Just a couple of the legends surrounding the birth of Panettone, today the quintessential Christmas dessert, considered a real culinary symbol not only in Italy but throughout the world.
An interesting fact about the Panettone shape: the contemporary Panettone was created by Milanese pastry chef Angelo Motta who had the bright idea to wrap the dough with thin paper to make it grow vertically.
Motta opened his first shop in Milan in 1919 with such success to start mass producing the Panettone.
From 1950’s the food industry started to produce Panettone in bigger and bigger quantities, starting from Motta and Alemagna.
Today the landscape has completely changed and the leader in the field is Bauli from Verona. Motta and Alemagna also moved their production to Veneto, leaving only Tre Marie in the city of birth. In addition to the many food companies throughout Italy, there are still many artisans who produce a Panettone using the original recipe.
The best artisans in Lombardia, the region of Milan, are without doubt Pasticceria Cova in Via Montenapoleone, right in Milan’s stylish shopping district and Pasticceria Marchesi in Via Santa Maria della Porta, recently acquired by Prada. Worth mentioning is the German Ernst Knam, who produces his own version of Panettone is his shop in Via Anfossi. Just outside Milan, the podium belongs to Pasticceria Pinuccia in Arluno and Pasticceria Besuschio in Abbiategrasso.
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Just a few days ago, the annual competition Panettone of the Year organised by GazzaGolosa (the food magazine by Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport) finished, and for the second year running the award went to young pastry chef Vincenzo Tiri, who works in his family’s artisan pastry laboratory in the small town of Acerenza in the Southern region of Basilicata.
And now, for the etiquette: Panettone has to be eaten with your hands, it has to be held with the left hand and fed through the right hand. If Panettone is served together with creams, it needs to be served on a plate with fork and spoon: The fork helps keep the Panettone slice still on the plate while with the spoon we can collect the cream. The ideal moment to bring Panettone to the table is before or together with fruit, never with coffee!
To conclude, we would like to recommend a book completely dedicated to Panettone, “Mille e un… panettone!”, written by chef Fabrizio Ferrari together with Barbara Carbone and Dario Loison. The book, available in English and Italian, tells of the great passion of pastry chef Loison who has been producing Panettone of the highest quality in his patisserie Loison Pasticceri since 1938. The book also talks about other Panettone recipe from around the world, presenting the most classical recipe together with a few ideas for savoury, spiced and spicy versions.
An original idea for Christmas approaching, to surprise our guests with new and creative ideas, perfect as a present for any food lover.
The only thing left to do is to taste your favorite Panettone!