Panettone is a type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan (in Milanese it is called panaton), usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year in Italy, Malta, Brazil and Switzerland, and one of the symbols of the city of Milan. Maltese nationals are also traditionally associated with this sweet loaf. In Latin America, especially in Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Peru, it is a Christmas dinner staple and in some places replaces roscón de reyes/bolo rei (King cake).
It has a cupola shape, which extends from a cylindrical base and is usually about 12-15 cm high for a panettone weighing 1 kg. Other bases may be used, such as an octagon, or a frustum with star section shape more common to pandoro. It is made during a long process that involves the curing of the dough, which is acidic, similar to sourdough. The proofing process alone takes several days, giving the cake its distinctive fluffy characteristics. It contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked. Many other variations are available such as plain or with chocolate . It is served in slices, vertically cut, accompanied with sweet hot beverages or a sweet wine, such as Asti Spumante or Moscato d’Asti. In some regions of Italy, it is served with crema di mascarpone, a cream made from mascarpone, eggs, sometimes dried or candied fruits, and typically a sweet liqueur such as amaretto; if mascarpone cheese is unavailable, zabaglione is sometimes used as a substitute.
Efforts are underway to obtain Protected Designation of Origin and Denominazione di origine controllata status for this product, but, as of late 2008, this had not occurred.Italian Agriculture Minister Paolo De Castro was looking at ways to protect the real Italian cakes from growing competition in Latin America and whether they can take action at the World Trade Organization.
In the early 20th century, two enterprising Milanese bakers began to produce panettone in large quantities in the rest of Italy. In 1919, Angelo Motta started producing his eponymous brand of cakes. It was also Motta who revolutionised the traditional panettone by giving it its tall domed shape by making the dough rise three times, or almost 20 hours, before cooking, giving it its now-familiar light texture. The recipe was adapted shortly after by another baker, Gioacchino Alemagna, around 1925, who also gave his name to a popular brand that still exists today. The stiff competition between the two that then ensued led to industrial production of the cake-like bread. Nestlé took over the brands together in the late 1990s, but Bauli, an Italian bakery company based in Verona, has acquired Motta and Alemagna from Nestlé.
As a result of the fierce competition, by the end of World War II, panettone was cheap enough for anyone and soon became the country’s leading Christmas sweet. Northern Italian immigrants to Argentina and Brazil also brought their love of panettone, and panettone is enjoyed for Christmas with hot cocoa or liquor during the holiday season, which became a mainstream tradition in those countries. In some places, it replaces the King cake.
In Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Peru (known in Spanish as “Panetón” or “Pan Dulce”). Peru’s Antonio D’Onofrio, son of immigrants hailing from Caserta, Italy, spawned his own brand using the Alemagna formula, which he licensed along with the packaging style. This brand is now also owned by Nestlé and exported throughout Latin America. In recent years, Brazilian Panettoni have increased in quality and in popularity due to their low cost and abundance.
Although panettone is quintessentially Milanese, it is more popular today in central and southern Italy, which accounts for 55% of sales, than in the Milan region in the north, with 45% of sales. Italian bakers produce some 117 million panettone and pandoro cakes every Christmas — worth 579 million euros.
In Italy and France, the panettone comes with an often varied history, but one that invariably states that its birthplace is in Milan. The word “panettone” derives from the Italian word “panetto”, a small loaf bread. The augmentative Italian suffix “-one” (pronounced “o-neh”) changes the meaning to “large bread”.
The origins of this cake appear to be ancient, dating back to the Roman Empire, when ancient Romans sweetened a type of leavened bread with honey. Throughout the ages this “tall, leavened fruitcake” makes cameo appearances in the arts: It is shown in a sixteenth-century painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder and is possibly mentioned in a contemporary recipe book written by Bartolomeo Scappi, personal chef to popes and emperors during the time of Charles V. The first recorded association of Panettone with Christmas can be found in the writings of 18th century illuminist Pietro Verri. He refers to it as “Pane di Tono” (luxury bread).
Though the etymology of the word ‘panettone’ is rather mundane, three more complex and fanciful folk etymologies have arisen. It is also thought that one of the ecclesiastical brothers, Fr. Antonio, who always wore the proper hat, was fond of this Pane. The ecclesiastical hat Pane Tone was later adopted as the shape, which gave rise to Panettone. This derivation received credence and acceptability at the turn of the century, and is likely to be the foreunner of the more recent Christmas cake. Gianrian Carli in “Il Caffe” makes passing reference to Panettone in 1850 in discussion with Pietro Verri and alludes to a clerical hat. Prof. S Reynders. Dipartimento di Scienze del Linguaggio, Università Ca’Foscari(1987)
One suggests that the word derives from the Milanese, “pan del ton,” meaning “bread of luxury.”
Another states that a 15th-century legend from Milan credits the invention to the nobleman falconer Ughetto Atellani, who fell in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. To win her over, the nobleman disguised himself as a baker and invented a rich bread to which he added flour and yeast, butter, eggs, dried raisins, and candied lemon and orange peel.
The duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro Sforza (1452-1508), agreed to the marriage, which was held in the presence of Leonardo da Vinci, and encouraged the launch of the new cake-like bread: Pan de Toni (or Toni’s bread).
Another legend credits the cake’s being invented in the court of the Sforzas, but with the following story:
It was Christmas and the court cook had no dessert to offer. So the guests were given a sweet bread baked by a mere kitchen boy, called Toni, which won general praise. Rather than steal the praise for himself, the cook congratulated his assistant and named it after him.
The third, says that the invention was the work of sister Ughetta.