Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Romantic History of Italian Panettone

In Italian folklore, it is widely believed that Panettone originated in the city of Milano in northern Italy during the 15th century. It became instantly popular. Today, hundreds of years later, people around the world continue to enjoy the sweet bread. It was originally called Tony's Bread or Pan de Tonio . The name has since evolved to become known as the panettone we enjoy today.

As with all ancient recipes, several legends circulate about how is one came into being. Here is the most popular, and most romantic of the versions. How typical of the Italians to meld together romance and food.

In the city of Milano in northern Italy during the 15th century, there lived a baker named Tony who had a beautiful daughter named Adalgisa. A wealthy young man, Ughetto della Tela, fell in love with the beauty and wanted to marry her, but he knew his family would oppose the marriage because she was a commoner.

Ughetto, a quiet, studious man, worked as a hawk breeder in the court of Duke Ludovico Maria Sforza. Undaunted in his quest to marry Adalgisa, he began to secretly meet the lovely young woman late at night, far from prying eyes. Meeting at such odd hours made a lot of sense because Adalgisa was required to start mixing the bread in the wee hours of the morning in her father’s bakery.

Soon, a strange series of misfortunes befell Tony. A new bakery opened nearby and he began to lose clients. Then he fell ill. This left Adalgisa to do all the work in the bakery, including all the heavy chores.

The gallant Ughetto seized upon this misfortunes and offered himself to assist her. He wanted to improve the bread by adding some butter to the mix, but the struggling bakery had no money to buy the additional ingredient, which was very expensive at the time. So Ughetto sold a few of his prized hawks and with the money purchased all the butter needed.

The bread was an immediate success. Loaves disappeared from the shelves. When Ughetto decided to add a little sugar to the recipe, it became even more popular. Soon word about the tasty bread spread. The beautiful Adalgisa smiled, for the bakery was once again turning a profit. Happy to see his beloved happy once more, Ughetto decided to improve upon the recipe once more. This time, he added candied citron and eggs. At Christimas time, he added raisins. Now the bread really became a huge success, well known throughout the entire city of Milano. Tony's bakery prospered and he became very wealthy.

Without hesitation, Ughetto's family approved the marriage to the wealthy young woman and Ughetto and Adalgisa were soon married. Their secret recipe and other bakers soon began to imitate the bread, ever-increasing quantities to satisfy the palates of Italians.

Today, the bread is produced and shipped throughout the world. It is always given away as gifts and graces the tables of all Italians at Christmas.

Once December hits, I find myself making panettone almost daily. My family loves it. Here is my favourite recipe, easily made in the bread machine:

Mirella Patzer's Panettone

3 1/4 cups bread flour (divided)
1/4 cup each golden raisins
1/4 cup candied mixed peel
1/4 cup milk
3 eggs, beaten
2 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup softened butter
1 tsp anise extract
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh grated orange peel
1 tsp fress grated lemon peel
2 tsp yeast

Mix 1 tbsp of the flour with raisins, candied peel and citron. Add milk, eggs, butter, vanilla, sugar, salt, orange and lemon peels in bread machine pan or proceed as per manufacturers instructions.

Turn on machine and set to normal/basic bread setting, choosing light color setting if possible. Sprinkle reserved fruit mixture into machine when fruit alarm sounds or just as second kneading is ending. Makes one 1 1/2 lb. loaf.

(If candied mixed peel is not something your family likes, this bread tastes just as good with only the raisins.)

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