The origins of panettone: Between legends...
There are various tales of how panettone was invented in the 15th century. According to some, while the Duke of Milan’s chef was preparing an important reception, he inadvertently left the dessert to burn in the oven. His kitchen hand, Toni, suggested serving a cake he had made that morning from some ingredients he had found in the pantry… and it was an immediate success! They called it ‘pane di Toni’, later changed to ‘panettone’. Another legend gives a more romantic version of the invention of panettone: Ughetto degli Ateliani, a nobleman known as Toni for short, was madly in love with a baker’s daughter1, and managed to persuade the baker to hire him as his apprentice. Keen to increase sales and demonstrate his creativity, he invented a new dessert made from wheat flour, eggs, butter, honey, candied orange and lemon zest, and raisins. His creation proved quite a hit with customers and, soon after, the two lovers married and lived happily ever after.
... and historical facts
Historically, the origin of panettone goes back to the custom of celebrating Christmas as a family sharing a special loaf of bread together: The entire family would gather around the fire, while the patriarch would slice up the large loaf and give a piece to everyone as a sign of communion. While the poor had to make do with pan de mej (millet bread)2 throughout the rest of the year, during the festive season bakers gave all their customers a more luxurious type of bread, made from pure wheat flour, milk, butter and honey, and flavoured with Muscat of Alexandria. This speciality was called pan del ton, which meant ‘luxury bread’ in local dialect.