Panettone for Christmas


Italians eaing Panettone is a staple of Italian Christmas festivities that dates back as far as the Middle Ages when to celebrate Christmas, people would replace their daily bread with a richer recipe, a practice clearly documented in a 15th-century manuscript written by George Valagussa, one of the Sforza family’s tutors; however, many legends have grown up around the origin of Panettone.
The popular legend is that of a nobleman and falconer named Ughetto, who fell in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a baker whose business had hit upon hard times. Ughetto’s family were unhappy with his choice and forbade him to marry such a lowly girl. In a bid to continue seeing his lover, Ughetto in disguise took a job at the bakery where one day after selling some of his falcons, he purchased butter and sugar and added it to the bakery’s bread mix. Ughetto’s sweet bread became popular and the ailing bakery soon began to see better times, which pleased Adalgisa. To continue pleasing her, one day near Christmas, he added candied peel and raisins to the mix and the popularity of his bread surpassed everything the bakery had ever produced before – in fact it became so popular that his family relented and gave their permission for the couple to marry.
A traditional panettone loaf is cylindrical in shape with a cupola (domed) top. It should always be taller than it is wide, with a soft and airy interior beneath a dark exterior. Modern versions are now available with the fruit being replaced by chocolate, however traditionally it should be citrus flavoured fruit bread.
The Best Panettone I’ve Ever Had
How you eat your panettone is entirely up to personal choice. Some Italians will have it with coffee in the morning, while others prefer it as a mid-day treat with a glass of Marsala wine and then, there’s those who choose to have theirs after dinner as dolce with a good sparkling Moscato.
The second legend has to do with the name itself, panettone, which would literally translate in English as ‘bread of Toni.’ The actual translation is ‘big bread,’ from ‘panetto’ meaning dough and the suffix ‘one’ meaning large.
It is said that at the 15th century court of Duke Ludovico, during a Christmas celebration, the chef burned the dessert. When the Duke demanded that dessert be served, the chef became visibly distressed and, seeing this, a scullery boy named Toni approached him and explained that he’d made a sweet loaf out of left-overs and offered this bread to the chef who accepted and served it at court. The dessert was a success and the Duke called the chef to congratulate him in front of his guests, however, unable to take the credit, the chef told everyone who had really made the bread and that’s how it became known as panettone; the bread of the scullery boy, Toni.
Panettone is seen by the Italians as an acceptable gift to take when visiting someone over the festive period and therefore, from the middle of November, Italian supermarkets and stores start to display the commercially made loaves. Packed in elaborately decorated boxes festooned with ribbons, this simple bread can command quite a high price. Very few Italians will make their own panettone, choosing to buy a ready-made loaf, however the internet offers plenty of recipes, ranging from the traditional to celebrity variations, so making it at home isn’t beyond the reach of most competent home-bakers.
The third legend has a less romantic story claiming that the sweet bread wasn’t created by Signor Ughetto, but by Sister Ughetta, a nun that wanted to please her fellow holy sisters one Christmas. The tale tells of a convent where the prospect of Christmas did little to lift the spirits of its poor and miserable nuns. One day while in the kitchen, it is said that Sister Ughetta fashioned a cake out of kindness for her fellow sisters and added fruit and peel and before baking she took a knife and cut a crucifix shape in its top. Once cooked, the cuts left by the knife opened up in the cupola crust making the cake a pleasing addition to an otherwise meagre festive feast for the holy sisters.
The traditional way of serving panettone is simply remove the paper liner and slice the loaf with a serrated knife as you would a cake, to get triangular wedges. A word of warning though, whichever way you choose to serve your panettone: it’s worth noting that Italians consider it bad luck to remove the domed top and to consume it on your own.
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  • 1 tablespoon dry active yeast
  • ¼ cup/45 grams fine semolina
  • 2 cups/255 grams 00 flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing pan and drizzling
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cups plain tomato sauce (look for passata, which is not a thick purée)
  •  Salt and pepper
  •  Pinch of red-pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
  • 1 cup/85 grams grated pecorino or other sheep’s cheese (3 ounces)
  • 8 anchovy fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces
  •  Dried oregano, preferably Sicilian
  1. Make the dough: In a mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, put 1 cup lukewarm water and yeast. Add semolina and stir to make a thin paste. Let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes, until bubbly.
  2. Add flour, salt and olive oil, and mix until dough becomes a rough mass. Knead dough until smooth, about 5 minutes. Dust with flour as needed, but don’t add much: This is meant to be a soft dough. Put kneaded dough in a resealable plastic bag or a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably longer, up to 24 hours.
  3. Make the sauce: Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, and raise heat to high. Simmer briskly until all the water has evaporated and onions are soft. Add tomato purée and bring to a simmer, then turn off heat. Season with salt and pepper, and add red pepper to taste. Allow mixture to cool, then stir in bread crumbs, grated cheese and anchovies. Let mixture rest for 5 minutes, then taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle olive oil to coat the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet. Remove dough from refrigerator and press down to deflate. Using a rolling pin, flatten dough to a small rectangle.
  5. Transfer dough to oiled baking sheet, and, using the palms of your hands, stretch dough to the edges. If dough is rebellious and resists, let it rest for a few minutes, then stretch again. (It may take 2 or 3 attempts.) Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and set in a warm place to rise. After 30 minutes or so, dough should have doubled in thickness.
  6. Spoon the topping evenly over the dough, then use a spatula or the back of the spoon to spread the topping smoothly over entire surface, leaving a half-inch border. Drizzle surface with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil.
  7. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes on the oven’s middle shelf, until nicely browned. Check the underside to make sure it is crisp, and bake for a few more minutes if necessary. (Tent top with foil if top has browned too quickly.)
  8. Remove from pan to a cutting board. Sprinkle with a little salt and a large pinch of oregano. Cut into 8 square slices. Serve warm or at room temperature.





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