Lights, decorations, gifts, family lunches and dinners, trees, nativity scenes, but above all the usual eternal dilemma: Pandoro or Panettone? The Italian people are divided: on one side the typical Lombard Christmas cake, in its different variants; on the other, the very soft Veronese mixture covered with icing sugar and loved by children. The stories of traditional Christmas pastry symbols run parallel and meet on the tables throughout Italy. Two beloved desserts that have very ancient origins but that know how to meet the future by collecting the culinary challenges of the new millennium. Flavours that tastes like home, family, Italian excellence.
The history of Panettone: the legend of Milanese Christmas cake
The ingenuity of a humble kitchen boy has given life to one of the traditional Italian Christmas cakes. Christmas Eve, Ludovico il Moro’s cooking, the Sforza chef is distracted and burns the dessert prepared for the ducal banquet. Toni, the last of the servants, arrives to his rescue, and in order to avoid the wrath of the lord over the entire culinary team, he decides to sacrifice his brick of mother yeast. His frugal Christmas dinner becomes the basis for the most famous Milanese dessert of all time. A dough that starts from that brick and is enhanced with flour, eggs, sugar, raisins and candied fruit. Here is ready a pile of soft and very leavened dough. The result is surprising and tasty. Ludovico il Moro liked it so much that he called it Pan de Toni in homage to the creator. So that humble servant came right into the history of Panettone. But, as with any Italian story, even that of Panettone has several versions: some say that the creators of this dessert can be Ughetto degli Atellani and Sister Ughetta. Even more imaginative theory because these names refer to one of the main ingredients to fill the Milanese dessert: raisins, which in Milanese dialect becomes, in fact, “ughett”. In any case, the origins of the Panettone are to be found in the custom, all medieval, to bring to the table something unusual compared to everyday life. A richer bread for example. A Panettone. Giorgio Valagussa, preceptor of the Sforza house, tells the rite of the log in his manuscripts. On the evening of December 24th a large piece of log was placed in the fireplace and at the same time the table was filled with three large loaves of wheat. It was the householder to cut them, giving a slice to each diner. Only one was put aside and kept for the following year, as a sign of continuity.
Ingredients and sizes of Panettone
A “Panettone” that can claim to be of this name must have specific characteristics and a processing that follows certain steps. The recipe of the Milanese Panettone creates a sweet confectionery product with soft dough, obtained by natural fermentation from sourdough, with a round base shape with cracked top crust and cut in a characteristic way. The dough must contain the following ingredients: wheat flour; sugar; eggs or egg yolk, butter, raisins and candied citrus peel, natural yeast consisting of sourdough, salt. The master cakes have then enriched over time the recipes of the artisan and industrial Panettone of further ingredients, such as flavoured creams to the most varied tastes and gluttonous glazes. There are so many ways to fill the Panettone, what really makes the difference is the dough. The original format was low, the result of the total absence of cake mold in the oven. In the Twenties, Angelo Motta had a brilliant intuition: he decided to enrich his Panettone with fats and wrap it with straw. Thus was born the classic Panettone-mushroom, the one that enriches our Christmas tables every year.
The story of Pandoro: the Christmas cake preferred by children
There are so many legends about the origins of Pandoro. One certainty: this Christmas cake is born in the Venetian Republic. Here, around 1500, it was customary to serve a dessert known as “pane de oro” (en.: bread of gold). The origin of the modern recipe is certainly Veronese. Pandoro, as we know it today, would be the evolution of nadalin, a dessert of the Venetian tradition. On October 14th 1894, Domenico Melegatti, a confectioner from Verona, invented the Pandoro recipe: he took up this sweet leavened cake, covered with almonds and sugar, added eggs and butter, eliminated the cover and patented the result. The star shape arrived thanks to Angelo Dall’Oca Bianca, a painter who created the pyramid mold with eight points. The soft Pandoro arrived on the tables throughout Italy, defying the cousin high-pitched stuffed with raisins and candied fruit, not very welcome to the palates of the youngest. On the name there are the most varied theories, from the most concrete to the most fabulous. The Venetian tradition speaks of a conical cake covered with thin sheets of gold. Someone instead refers to the origin of the name “Pandoro” to the fairy tales that used to tell the elderly Veronese ladies to their nephews on a delicious golden bread to eat with the angels. Then there is the simplest, but most beautiful version: a simple boy, a young boy, saw a slice of this dessert, from the dough, made yellow from eggs and exclaimed the «pan de oro!». And for Italian children that Christmas cake has become really precious, the highly anticipated dessert of every respectable Christmas dinner. A dusting of powdered sugar and so on, ready to get your nose dirty at every slice. Even this dessert has over time adopted several tasty variations of Pandoro filled to adapt to the increasingly demanding palates of consumers and trends of the moment. (Here a series of useful tips to fill the Pandoro)
Between origins shrouded in legend and new recipes in continuous evolution, the battle between Panettone and Pandoro has been going on for centuries. There are those who prefer the traditional taste of the first and those who choose the soft mixture of the second. There are those who decide not to choose and, simply, brings to the table both Italian excellences to further warm the hearts during the Christmas holidays. The artisanal creations are much preferred to industrial products, which, despite the competition, continue to crowd the shelves of shops and supermarkets even long before and long after the Christmas period. Among all these choices, a single certainty: no table will remain unheeded by these Christmas cakes all Made in Italy, from concept to production. Because at Christmas Italians know how to be better than ever: in the soul and in food.