If you live somewhere in Europe or North America, you have probably stumbled upon Panettone at some point already. And even if you haven’t tried the traditional Christmas bread from Italy yet, it has surely caught your attention. Far beyond Italy’s borders, the dry, cake-like sweet occupies supermarket shelves with its huge packaging during Christmas season. It is one of the most popular Christmas treats around the world today.
Panettone is an Italian type of sweet bread loaf. Its distinct fluffiness results from proofing a sourdough starter for several days. It is most common to lard the dough with raisins or candied fruits. But also other variations with chocolate or even plain without additions are popular. The sweet Christmas bread usually comes in 1 kg portions. In the baking process, the dough rises 15-20 centimeters inside a cylindrical paper form, creating its typical cupola shape. After baking, it is important to cure the fresh Panettone hanging upside down. The result is a delicious sweet bread with a soft and fluffy texture and a delicate taste. Served as big wedges – in some regions topped with Mascarpone – together with sugary hot drinks or sweet wine, Panettone is the ultimate Christmas treat.
You will hardly be able, though, to eat 1 kg of the traditional sweet in one go. And you don’t have to. A great aspect of Panettone is its keepability – usually 6 weeks or more. Thus, you can easily buy a giant loaf at the beginning of December and eat it throughout the entire Pre-Christmas season.
From A Basic Bread To A Fluffy Deliciousness
Panettone first originated in the 15th century in Milan where it was called “Panatton” in the local dialect. Although, the loaf was much closer to proper bread than the more cake-like pastry of today. Back then, yeast was a rather rare and special ingredient. For that reason, its use was solely limited to making bread for religious festivities like Christmas or Easter. In a common tradition, three bread loaves – symbolyzing the trinity – were set aside for the upcoming year. The remaining bread would be split between the celebrating guests.
Over the centuries, Panettone evolved from plain wheat bread to a sweet specialty. Bakers would now add butter and eggs for a fluffier dough and refine the taste with sugar and raisins.
However, Panettone, as we know it today with its distinct texture and shape, only exists since the beginning of the 20th century. This is when the traditional Christmas bread finally started being mass produced. Supposedly, baker Angelo Motto was responsible for the creation of the loaf’s airy consistency and its typical domed shape.
Today, there are countless bakeries, especially in the north of Italy, that still produce Panettone in the most traditional way. A contest in Milan even awards the Best Traditional Panettone of Italy, every year. So if you ever happen to be there before Christmas, you know what you’ve got to do. But of course, these family operations cannot satisfy the huge demand for the globally popular sweet bread. To supply supermarkets in Italy and other countries, industrial producers of pastries and other desserts boost the production of Panettone in the winter months. Among these, the biggest and most popular brands are Motta, Bauli, Paluani and Alemagna.
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Many Urban Legends Surround The Name Of Panettone
There are two rather straight forward, linguistic explanations on the denomination of the delicious Christmas treat. One suggests that the name stems from “pane di tono” which translates to “luxury cake”. This references the already mentioned exculsivity of the sweet bread for religious celebrations. At the same time, the Italian word for small loaf cake – “panetto” – could be the origin. Paired with the augmentative suffix “-one” it would basically become a large cake. This doesn’t sound too far-fetched either considering that it pretty well describes what Panettone actually is.
Apart from these, a more creative legend credits a kitchen help with the invention of the delicious treat. During a grand banquet for the Duke of Milan, his chef got himself into a precarious situation. Under all the pressure, he had forgotten about the dessert in the oven. With no more time at hand, he had to find a quick replacement for the burnt sweet dish. Fortunately, the kitchen boy, Toni, had made a sweet bread with raisins in the morning that he offered to be used as dessert. To the chef’s surprise, the Duke and his guests loved it so much that they even asked for its name. Not knowing what to say, the cook simply called it “pane di Toni” – meaning “the bread of Toni”. The name caught on as the loaf cake grew in popularity. The more it was used, the more it changed phonetically and finally ended up being “Panettone”.
Have Yourself A Merry Christmas
If you haven’t tried Panettone, you haven’t had a proper Christmas time – there, we said it. The easiest way to enjoy the Italian Christmas treat is to buy it ready-made at the supermarket or online. If you rather like it homemade and have some time at hand, you can simply try out our authentic recipe below.
Here’s All You Need
Panettone - Traditional Italian Christmas Bread
- 4 tbsp milk
- 1 cube fresh yeast
- 100 g sugar
- 250 g butter
- 5 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 1 lemon
- 1 orange
- 500 g flour
- 80 g raisins
- 80 g sultana
- 3 tbsp bown rum
- 50 g candied lemon peel
- 50 g candied orange peel
- 1 egg white
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 30 g almond flakes
- Grease the Panettone baking form or layer a classic form with baking paper
- Heat up the milk, mix it with the fresh yeast and 1 tea spoon of sugar and let it rest for 4-5 minutes
- Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl until foamy. Then, blend in the candied orange and lemon peels.
- Add the eggs step by step while stirring continuously until everything is blended well
- Now, mix flour and salt in a large bowl and blend in the yeast as well as the egg-butter-mix until you get a smooth dough
- Dampen your hands with water and knead the dough on a work counter besprinkled with flour for about 10 minutes. Form a ball, wrap it in cling film and let it rest at room temperature for about 2 hours until the dough has doubled in size
- In the meantime, heat the rum, raisins and sultanas in a pot and let it simmer for 5-6 minutes. Let it cool down before continuing
- Knead the dough one more time and then start blending in the raisin-sultana-mix as well as the peels.
- Form a ball from the dough, place it in the baking form and cover it with cling film. Before baking, let it rest for another hour.
- Heat up the oven to 180 °C
- Now, mix icing sugar, almond flakes, sugar and egg white and spread it onto the dough
- Bake the Panettone for 40-50 minutes
- After taking it out of the oven, let the Panettone rest for at least 10 minutes before serving it
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Panettone – Nicolettone 2017 – IMG_7092 by Nicola, licensed under CC BY 2.0
IMG_3256 by Officina Giotto, licensed under CC BY 2.0