All about Panettone
This typical Milanese Christmas treat is having a huge success. The origins of Panettone – a symbol of Made in Italy – date back to ancient times. It's become a trendy treat and, notwithstanding diet fanatics, it has captured people throughout the world,
Panettone, the Milanese Christmas treat par excellence, continues to attract disciples. In fact, it has become so popular that even the fashion world has begun to notice it. If you're looking for a gift for a friend who's passionate about fashion and food, Dolce & Gabbana's branded panettone could be just the gift you're looking for (see page 12). This panettone, created in partnership with the historic Sicilian pasticceria Fiasconaro, has been re-imagined with the flavours of Sicily and produced in two variations: pistachio and citrus fruit with saffron. But the real piece de resistance is the tin box in which it arrives. Featuring bright colours and a favourite pattern of the brand, it is inspired by the decorative motifs of the Sicilian cart and the characters of the puppet theatre, making it a truly collectable item. (www.dolcegabbana. it/food). If you prefer something a little more classical, and your loyalties lie with King Giorgio rather than the Sicilian duo, we recommend Armani Dolci's signature panettone. The brand's festive treat comes in an elegant red hat box tied with a matching bow and it's available in either the classic version or with pears and chocolate (www. armanidolci.com). Another famous brand has recently paid tribute to her Majesty, the panettone. At the last edition of fashion week, Jil Sander hosted her fashion show in a former panettone factory. The passion for this leavened specialty of Milanese tradition has extended beyond the confines of Italy. Over the past few years, exports of artisanal panettone have increased significantly. In the United States in particular, where the art of bread making has become a collective mania, the country's most famous bakers, from New York to San Francisco, are obsessively competing with each other to see who can turn out the perfect panettone. So what's so special about this sweet treat made from flour, butter, eggs, raisins and candied fruit, traditionally eaten during the Christmas holidays but now available year-round?
A LITTLE HISTORY Although many legends have grown up around the origin of panettone, these are two of the most famous. One tells the story of a banquet held at the court of Ludovico il Moro on Christmas Eve. The dessert that the chefs had planned to serve at the end of the meal was accidentally burnt. In despair, the head chef took the advice of his young assistant Toni, who suggested that he serve the cake just the same, justifying the burnt crust as an integral part of the dessert. Hence, the birth of ‘pan del Toni' (Toni's bread) a forerunner of today's panettone. Another legend tells the story of Ughetto degli Atellani, a Milanese nobleman who was in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a baker. Ughetto disguised himself as a baker's boy and prepared a sweet bread filled with raisins, candied orange and citrus peel. The cake was so good that it won Adalgisa's heart. Between fact and fiction, we do know that a decree issued
in 1395 permitted all bakeries in Milan to make the so-called ‘Pan del ton’ (luxury bread in Milanese dialect) at Christmas: a wheat bread that was only accessible to poorer members of the community during the season's festive Christmas meal. In the 19th century, it was further enhanced with the addition of nourishing ingredients like eggs and sugar. Raisins, on the other hand, were always a staple ingredient because, according to common belief, they symbolize prosperity for the coming year. However, panettone as we know it today was only manufactured in 1919, when Angelo Motta opened his first bakery in Milan. Until that time, its shape was flatter and its dough more compact. Motta, the founder of one of Italy's most famous confectionery brands, revolutionized traditional panettone by adding yeast and more raisins, and won instant success.
THE HALLMARK TRAITS OF MODERN PANETTONE How is artisanal panettone made today? Its tantalizing taste is the result of a combination of prime-quality ingredients, fanatic attention to technique and… lots of patience. To make the historic dome, it's necessary to knead the dough, made from flour, natural yeast, eggs, butter and sugar, several times. After completing this stage, the dough is enhanced with the addition of raisins and candied fruit (usually pieces of candied citrus peel). The whole process involves three different stages of leavening, during which time the dough is extremely sensitive to temperature and humidity. With so many options on offer, how do you recognize an authentic panettone? You might not know that panettone is governed by strict regulations. This classic Christmas cake can only be called panettone if it follows certain specifications, including natural fermentation, and the presence of at least 16% butter, 4% egg yolks and 20% raisins and candied fruit. Similar cakes, with different characteristics, are not allowed to be called panettone, so that the makers resort to names like Christmas Cake.
LET’S GET CREATIVE Over the years this Christmas treat has offered enterprising chefs fertile ground for a variety of culinary experimentations to suit all tastes, although this horrifies the purists. These include versions that are covered with almond icing, filled with chocolate, made without raisins or candied fruit, infused with chocolate drops instead of raisins or, in more extreme cases, flavoured with truffles. There are regional versions, inspired by the products and traditions of the terroir. In Treviso, one of the most popular versions includes panettone made with candied red radicchio while, in Naples, some bakers have even launched “pizza panettone”, a version filled with sweet ricotta, candied fruit and raisins, topped with slivers of chocolate and a sprinkling of cocoa. Another Christmas favourite is Italy’s gastronomic panettone, a savoury version which can be filled with different types of charcuterie, smoked salmon, paté and a variety of cheeses. Over the past few years, the range has been extended to include whole wheat, organic or vegan versions. Also worthy of note are the variations on the theme. Vergani, a historic Milanese pasticceria, offers a street food version. Instead of the cup or classic brioche, customers can purchase a mini panettone filled with their favourite ice cream flavor. At the Vergani store in the Porta Romana district, you can also order panettone-flavoured ice cream (www.panettonevergani.com). Thanks
to an innovative twinning between France and Italy, Eclaire de Génie, a French company that has won over the Milanese with its choux pastry éclairs, also pays tribute to this typical Christmas specialty. During the festive season, its branches, scattered across the city, sell éclairs filled with panettone cream, topped with a white chocolate icing and decorated with a sprinkling of panettone crumbs, candied fruit and gold flakes (www.leclairdegenie.it). Lastly if you want to end your Christmas lunch on a high note, we recommend a glass of reserve Monteverro grappa with hints of vanilla and panettone (www.monteverro.com).
WHERE TO BUY IT But where should you go to taste or bring home authentic artisanal Milanese panettone? The city offers an array of original pastry shops that will not disappoint. Here is our pick of the best addresses. One of the most traditional is Cova. One of Milan's oldest, most historic coffee shops, Cova was patronized by patriots of the Risorgimento. It was here that Giuseppe Verdi and Maria Callas drank their coffee, and here that Milan's elite and affluent international travelers now meet for lunch or an aperitivo. In addition to a classic panettone, Cova also sells a version with candied pineapple and a typically Milanese version with saffron and raisins soaked in sparkling wine (www.pasticceriacova. com). Biffi, a mainstay of Milanese pasticceria since 1847, offers this typical Christmas delicacy in its most traditional version (www. biffipasticceria.it). Another historic venue, which recently celebrated 80 years in the industry, is Cucchi, in Corso Genova. Here, you can find panettone year-round and, although Cucchi favours the classic recipe, other must-trys include the versions with candied apples or cinnamon or candied pears and cinnamon (www.pasticceriacucchi.it). For the past thirty years, Sant’Ambroeus, in corso Matteotti, has delighted the palates of the Milanese. In addition to the traditional recipe, it also offers madeto-order panettoni, filled with special creams and garnished with festive decorations (www. santambroeusmilano.com). If you're looking for an elegant, beautifully wrapped panettone, head to Marchesi 1824. It's not only totally irresistible (see page 54), but it comes in a precious velvet, silk lined box (www.pasticceriamarchesi.com). Located just a short distance from the Navigli, another go-to pastry shop is Gattullo, a historic address for Milanese panettone, also available in the ‘del Sultano' version, with dates and walnuts (www.gattullo.it). German born, Milanese chocolatier and Bake-Off Italia judge Ernst Knam is renowned for his superlative rendition of Milan's Christmas treat. His version includes a classic base, enhanced with slivers of chocolate or pears and chocolate. Knam also pays tribute to his country of origin with a Christmas Stollen, a type of German panettone made with marzipan, lemon and rum (www.eknam.com). At the Milanese headquarters of Eataly, in piazza 25 Aprile, you'll be spoilt for choice. Here, you'll find all shapes and forms of artisanal panettone and pandoro, sourced from small producers (www.eataly.net). If, on the other hand, you prefer savoury to sweet, your go-to addresses are Lorini, a charming bakery located just steps from Porta Venezia (www.pasticcerialorini-milano.it), or pasticceria Panzera near the Central Station (www.panzeramilano.com).
The Panettoni by T’a Milano, the brand of artisanal chocolates and pastries founded by the Alemagna brothers, are made according to an ancient family recipe, using only natural ingredients. Available in the classic version, with pears and chocolates, without candied fruit or in the new all chocolate version. T’a Milano
Chiara Zaccarelli Travel Editor Where® Italia
Dolce & Gabbana
Peck Peck, Milan’s temple of taste, also offers a traditional version of panettone. The dough is processed for 72 hours before being baked and only primequality ingredients, including stone-ground wheat germ, Bourbon vanilla beans from Madagascar, candied orange peel and Tuscan acacia honey are used. In addition to the above, they also do several re-imagined versions.