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Anyone who has spent Natale (Christmas) or Il Capodanno (The New Year) in Italy will have been offered the traditional Panettone.
Yes it’s one of those indispensable elements of the ‘Festive Seasons’ that contradicts the old adage ‘you can never have too much of a good thing’. I assure you that you can have too much of a good thing, and when you pop round to see friends and family during the Christmas/New year period, taking with you one of the ‘spare’ Panettone given to you by one of your neighbours, only to be offered yet another hunk of this very peculiar species of Italian cake you will know exactly what I mean!
For those of you as yet unacquainted with the subject of this blog a brief description is necessary: Panettone is, depending on how you look at it (or taste it), either a bread-like cake, or a cake-like bread. Hmmm let’s start again, o.k. Imagine a sort of sweetish yellowish fluffyish bread, laced with candied fruit usually packaged in a kind of domed rectangular box with, funnily enough, Panettone written on the side…eccolo qua! (that’s it!).
But from whence exactly did it originate, this fluffyish bready cakey thingy?
La Leggenda del Panettone
Once upon a time there was a baker by the name of Toni who fell madly in love with a ragazza contadina (peasant girl) called Lucia. Well, this Lucia went every morning to sell eggs in the village and, every morning, Toni the baker eagerly and nervously awaited her arrival. But such was the strength of the feelings that Toni had for this fanciulla di campagna (country lass) that whenever he saw her he was struck dumb and hence never spoke a single word to her. Oh how many furtive glances of love, how many sighs and how many broken eggs all because the poor devil was unable to express his love. Finally a brilliant idea came to Toni: he would prepare for his beloved Lucia a wonderful dolce (sweet), not any old sweet but rather a special sweet the likes of which had never been baked before.
Toni set about creating a sweet based on a soft fragrant pasta (dough) enriched with eggs butter and candied fruit. But the poor lad was in such an emotional state due to his intense passion for Lucia that without noticing it he accidentally added a huge quantity of lievito (yeast) to his mixture. The result? Un pane dolce ma alto alto alto (a very very tall sweet bread).
Toni, realising his mistake too late, didn’t have time to begin all over again and shyly presented his gift to Lucia feeling slightly ashamed of his poor work. However when Lucia saw the strange creation a miracle happened! Enchanted by this new sweet with its alluring odour she eagerly took a bite and found it to have an exquisite flavour. In the heat of the moment Toni finally found the courage to speak and wasted no time in asking Lucia to be his wife.
The couple lived together happily and, due to the great popularity of the new Pan de Toni or Panettone as it became known, became quite rich.
If you are feeling adventurous and would like to try a ‘home made’ version of Panettone stay tuned for the next blog in which I will reveal the secrets of Toni’s legendary recipe.