The United States has pumpkin pie and Italy has panettone, the quintessential cake for the holidays. Made with a combination of candied fruit and spices, panettone is the Old World version of fruitcake, a special treat that dates back to the Middle Ages.
Panettone cake might have a rich and storied history, but its flavor and texture has remained the same over the centuries. What sets it apart from other cakes and desserts is the proofing method, which produces an acidity similar to sourdough, giving it a deliciously fluffy texture. After several days of curing, the sweet yeast dough is brought to life with a combination of special ingredients like golden raisins, fresh lemon zest, and candied citron.
The domed shape of panettone cake also gives it a festive and elegant appearance that makes it perfect as a table centerpiece during the holidays. Baking your own panettone cake is a complicated process, so we don’t recommend making it from scratch unless you’re an experienced baker. At Supermarket Italy, we feature a variety of panettone cakes that are packaged in festively decorated boxes, making them the ideal choice for gift giving on holidays and special occasions.
A holiday favorite season after season, the legend of panettone cake can be traced back to an epic love story between a nobleman and the daughter of a baker. According to one popular legend, Ughetto fell in love with the baker’s daughter, but because he didn’t have enough money to support a wife, his social standing wasn’t enough to secure her hand in marriage.
Even so, Ughetto was smitten and refused to give up on true love. When the bakery fell upon hard times, he came to the rescue with the first version of panettone cake. By simply adding a few essential ingredients like butter, raisins, sugar, and candied orange peel, he transformed the average bread of the Middle Ages into a flavorful cake that everybody loved. In fact, his recipe quickly spread across Italy and became a favorite among Italian grandmothers and bakers alike.
Some Italians believe that a nun from Milan made the first panettone cake. According to folklore, it wasn’t Signor Ughetto who invented this iconic holiday cake but his sister. On a particularly dreary Christmas, she attempted to cheer up her poverty-stricken nunnery with an inventive and delicious update on everyday peasant bread.
For some Italians, the story of panettone began in the 15th century court of Duke Ludovico. When the chef burned the dessert, a scullery boy named Toni saved the day with a sweet loaf made from leftover ingredients. The Duke and his guests were so captivated by the dessert that they named it the “bread of Toni,” in honor of its clever and resourceful inventor.
For Italians, panettone cake is all about memories; one bite is all it takes to bring back happy memories of the holidays with friends and family. Typically served with a dessert wine like Marsala, Panettone makes a comforting midday treat or after-dinner delight that the whole family can enjoy. Include panettone in your holiday cornucopia and get ready to treat yourself to the authentic taste of Old World Italy.