11 December 2007

All Hail Panettone, Royal Bread of Luxury

For those unaware Panettone is a bread of Milan, usually made and devoured around Christmas and New Year around Italy. It's a tall cake-like bread stuffed with dried raisins and candied orange and lemon peels. In the 19th century, with the unification of Italy, the bread was originally embellished with candied red cherries and green citron as a patriotic gesture; now they just do it because.

In Italy and France, the elusive panettone comes with an often varied history, but one that invariably begins in Milano.

The origins of this sweet and mysterious cake appear to be ancient, dating back to the Roman Empire, ancient Romans sweetened a type of leavened bread with honey.

This ain't no 99cent loaf of Sunbeam. This is the sweet bread of legends!

The word "panettone" derives from the Italian word "panetto," meaning a small bundle of bread. But some believe that the word 'panettone' is of complex and not fully discernible origin. The most likely etymology derives from the Milano, "pan del ton," meaning "bread of luxury".

Throughout the ages this tall, leavened cake makes cameo appearances in the arts : In a 16th century painting and also as a recipe in a contemporary cook book written by Bartolomeo Scappi, personal chef to popes and emperors during the time of Charles V. So, bread of luxury sounds about right.

The most popular of the stories about panettone's origins is a romantic tale that begins with a "Once upon a time..."

The legend goes that panettone originated in the sixteenth century, when a baker named Antonio fell in love with a princess and baked a golden, buttery egg bread to win her heart.

Another versions tells of a Milanese nobleman falling in love with the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. And to win her over, the nobleman disguises himself as a baker, inventing a rich bread in which he added to the flour and yeast, butter, eggs, dried raisins and candied lemon and orange peel.

The duke of Milan 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 del Ton (or Toni's bread).

So this year after the hard boiled eggs, lemon and orange slices (wrong holiday - that's for Easter, I fucked up), the ricotta salata, mozzarella and the ricotta, and after drowned broccoli rabe and the Christmas Eve caponata di pesce, which includes seven types of fish (or nine, eleven, or thirteen, depending on the town of origin), and five loaves of fresh seeded semolina and some salad, after the baked ziti and the whole MenĂ¹ di Natale, cross your fingers that after the walnuts and chestnuts, parsley and fennel, the struffoli and cenci, the dried figs and candied almonds, but before the tea, coffee, espresso and Anisette, your grandma wheels out a motherfuckin' Panettone; the Royal Bread of Milano Luxury.

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