A long-standing Italian tradition, this humble sweet bread has made its way around the world to become a staple Christmas dessert.
Made with a combination of no less than 20% candied fruits, 16% butter, spices, and eggs that are at least four percent yolk, the panettone is so highly prized in Italy that it is in the process of undergoing legal protection and authentication. So, how then did this Milanese bread become one of the symbols of Italian baked goods?
LEGEND OF THE LOAF
A timeless holiday favourite, the origins of the panettone can be credited to the tale of a nobleman, Ughetto, who fell in love with a baker’s daughter. To impress the family despite his lack of money, he crafted the first version of the panettone. And just by adding a few essential ingredients like butter, raisins, sugar and candied orange peel, he elevated the average bread to a proper delicacy. The truth to this story is rather questionable, though, as ‘ughett’ means raisin in the Milanese dialect, making it a little too convenient that the creator of a bread with raisins is named after the same fruit.
To other Italians, the bread was birthed from the court of Duke Ludovico during the 15th century, when a scullery boy named Toni saved the meal when he made a sweet loaf with leftover ingredients after the chef burned the dessert. Hence, the bread was named Pan de Toni, translated to ‘bread of Toni’ in honour of its inventor.
Despite its conflicting roots, it can be agreed upon that the panettone was chosen as a dessert for occasions due to the ingredients used. During the 15th century, bread flour usually involved cheaper grains like spelt or rye, whereas the panettone was made entirely from the more lavish wheat flour and citrus peel that would have been sourced miles away from Milan, hence its exquisiteness was befitting of celebrations. It was then renamed from Pan de Toni to Pan de Tone, meaning luxury bread.
A BREAD WELL-TRAVELLED
The panettone became a global sensation after it became commercially produced during the 20th century. In 1919, Angelo Motta began selling his eponymous brand of cake, revolutionising the original panettone through an improvised recipe. To achieve a light texture, he allowed his dough to rest for almost 20 hours to let it rise to thrice its height, giving it an iconic tall, dome shape.
Seeing the widespread success of Motta’s panettones, Gioacchino Alemagna, another baker, adapted the recipe and started merchandising the Alemagna Panettone. The stiff competition between the two brands eventually led to industrial production of the cake. By the end of World War II, the panettone became cheap enough that it was accessible to the masses, enabling it to become the country’s leading Christmas dessert. And when Italians migrated to other corners of the globe, they brought their panettone with them, gaining exceptional popularity in South America.
Panettones might have a complex history, but its flavour has withstood the test of time. And, hewre at the magazine, we believe the time is now to get your hands on a slice from one of the following local establishments—along with a jigger of your favourite seasonal tipples, sink your teeth in the glory of this age-old holiday confection and christen it a jolly holiday.
1. DA PAOLO GASTRONOMIA
There could not be a more Italian way to usher in the Yuletide season than with a slice of panettone and a flute of champagne. This year, Da Paolo Gastronomia, a family-run trattoria, has combined the pair to create Panettone Prosecco. Here, the sweet yeast dough is brought to life with rows of prosecco cream and candied green grapes for a light and boozy treat. A Veronese variation, the Pandoro Classico is a Christmas sourdough that is more cake-like and buttery than the panettone, but without the fruits. Star-shaped, it is typically dusted with icing sugar to resemble the snowy peaks of the Italian Alps during winter.
For more information, visit dapaolo.com.sg.
2. THE FULLERTON HOTEL SINGAPORE
If you are unsure whether you would enjoy the taste of a panettone and would only like a smaller bite instead, The Fullerton Hotel Singapore has got you covered! Introducing the Panettoncino, a miniature single-serve portion of the quintessential Italian bread, where the raisins, candied orange and lemon provide textural variation to the soft, fluffy dough. And in the ultimate fusion of historic and modern, the Salted Caramel Ondeh Ondeh Cruffintone also made it to the lineup. Croissant dough is baked in a panettone tin, and layered between the buttery pastry is a blend of saccharine and salty from the flavours of pandan, coconut flakes and salted caramel sauce.
For more information, shop.fullertonhotels.com.
3. CAPELLA SINGAPORE
Studded with chocolate chips, the addition of this one ingredient really changes the whole gastronomic experience you would have with the panettone. Capella Singapore’s Chocolate Panettone utilises the traditional recipe, and the fresh and zesty notes of the citrus fruits are balanced with the rich and decadent chocolate, pulling together a taste that is equally nostalgic as it is exciting. To further switch things up, this panettone allows the bread aspect of this bread-like cake to shine through better. Simply toast a slice to see how the melted chocolate provides another dimension of flavours to the bread, and it would be the perfect brunch meal with a steamy cup of coffee.
For more information, visit capellahotels.com.