Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Panettone, Traditional Italian Food

As everyone in the office enjoys this traditional Italian Christmas treat, sent from overseas for the holidays, I busily research the origins behind such an interesting Italian tradition.

Panettone is a type of sweet bread loaf, cupola shaped, usually standing about 5 inches high. The dough is acidic, similar to sourdough. The rising process alone takes several days, giving the cake its distinctive fluffy characteristics. It contains candied orange, citron and lemon zest, as well as raisins. Many other variations are available such as plain or with chocolate. It is generally served with hot, sweet beverages or a sweet wine.

There are almost as many legends attached to the history of panettone as there are versions of the bread. But a common thread is its place and time of origin – Milan, dating back, in one form or another, to the Roman Empire, when ancient Romans sweetened leavened bread with honey. One legend has it that the bread was created a few hundred years ago by a humble baker named Tony to woo his beloved, the daughter of a rich merchant. More importantly, he had to win over the father to the idea of his daughter marrying a baker, so he pulled out all the stops and filled this bread with the baker's equivalent of the gifts of the wise men: butter, brandied dried and candied fruits, nuts, and sugar. The merchant was so impressed that he not only gave his daughter in marriage, but also set Tony up with his own bakery in Milan with the promise that he would continue to make his bread, pane Tony.

Of course, the word Panettone, more obviously derives from the Italian word “panetto”, a small loaf of bread. The augmentative Italian suffix “-one” changes the meaning to “large bread”. Either way, today Panettone is enjoyed around the world during the holiday season.

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