The INSIDER Summary:
• Panettone is a dry, cake-like bread that originated in Italy in the 1500s.
• It started off as a “luxury cake” that was only eaten for religious celebrations.
• Mass production in the early 1900s gave the bread its domed shape and made it more available, and Italians who migrated to the US brought the Christmas tradition with them.
Most people have seen panettone advertised in grocery stores and displayed in various holiday windows, but few have actually ever tried it.
Despite this, panettone is still a huge Christmas staple that pops up nearly everywhere over the holidays.
So, what is panettone?
Although there are many legends that surround the creation of the dried fruit filled bread, panettone actually has its roots in religion.
According to Stanislao Porzio, a food commentator who wrote a book on panettone, the bread first originated in Milan in the 15th century. It was referred to as “pane di tono,” which translates to “luxury cake.”
During those times, yeast was considered a very special ingredient, so it was only used to make bread for religious celebrations, like Christmas. Three loaves of wheat bread — which were meant to symbolise the trinity — were cut and set aside for the following year. The rest of the bread was split between the people attending the celebration.
By the mid 1800s, the Christmas bread had evolved and was being made with butter, eggs, sugar, and raisins.
It wasn’t until panettone started to be mass produced in the first half of the 20th century that it took on its domed shape. Baker Angelo Motto is credited with the idea of letting the dough proof and rise for an extended period of time (up to 12 hours), which is what gives panettone its shape, and what makes it so light and airy.
How did it become a holiday staple?
Large-scale production made the bread available to the masses, and soon it became a staple in Italian households during the holiday season. Italians who migrated to the US during the 1900s brought this tradition with them, and it’s lasted throughout the years.
Today, panettone is considered a dessert, and is made with raisins and dried fruit, and sometimes nuts and currants. It can be eaten with wine, coffee, or tea. Because it’s relatively dry, some people like to enjoy the bread with a dollop of mascarpone cheese.
Those who end up with too much panettone often freeze it for next year. Otherwise, it makes for great French toast.
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