It would appear that there is no escaping it, Christmas is just around the corner.
The figure of Father Christmas which once upon a time was unseen in this area is gradually becoming more and more evident but it would seem that tradition is also standing its ground as the figure of the Befana is still held to be very important by most children in this area.
What is also flourishing is the idea of food as an important aspect of local culture.
Maybe it’s one of the results of the recession as people start to make savings by cooking at home and rediscover some of the older traditions but certain types of food have always been associated with tradition at particular times of the year.
Although originally conceived in the north of Italy, one of the traditional Christmas fare in this area is without – the panettone.
Panettone is a type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year in Italy, southeastern France, Portugal, Brazil, Peru, Malta, Germany and Switzerland, and is one of the symbols of the city of Milan.
It has a cupola shape, which extends from a cylindrical base and is usually about 12–15 cm high for a panettone weighing 1 kg. Other bases may be used, such as an octagon, or a frustum with star section shape more common to pandoro.
It is made during a long process that involves the curing of the dough, which is acidic, similar to sourdough. The proofing process alone takes several days, giving the cake its distinctive fluffy characteristics. It contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked. Many other variations are available such as plain or with chocolate. It is served in slices, vertically cut, accompanied with sweet hot beverages or a sweet wine, such as Asti or Moscato d’Asti.
There was a Panettone festa taking place this afternoon at the Fratelli Lucchesi in Barga Giardino where Father Christmas dutifully turned up and during which the bakery and specialist kitchens of Paolo Lucchesi which is normally closed to the public was opened up so that people could see for themselves just how this traditional Christmas cake was actually prepared and baked.
Paolo was hard at work preparing and baking a series of enormously large panettone of 5 kg using his own special recipe and of course some of the lievito madre – natural yeast which first started life, way back in 1964 in the kitchens of Rolando Morandin
The two brothers Paolo and Fabio Lucchesi had been in this business for many years following on a family tradition started by their father and uncle who used to run the Onesti bar back in the early 70s. They then moved their operations twice over the years before finally starting up the present Bar and Pasticceria Lucchesi a decade ago in 2003 (that article can be seen here) where they make chocolate and pastries in their own bakery and specialist kitchens.
Paolo Lucchesi describing ( in Italian) just how he prepares, makes and then bakes his special 5 kg Panettone and includes the reason why after baking the panettone is kept upside down until it cools
Though the etymology of the word ‘panettone’ is rather mundane, three more complex and fanciful folk etymologies have arisen.
It is also thought that one of the ecclesiastical brothers, Fr. Antonio, who always wore the proper hat, was fond of this Pane. The ecclesiastical hat Pane Tone was later adopted as the shape, which gave rise to Panettone. This derivation received credence and acceptability at the turn of the century, and is likely to be the foreunner of the more recent Christmas cake.
Gianrian Carli in “Il Caffe” makes passing reference to Panettone in 1850 in discussion with Pietro Verri and alludes to a clerical hat. Prof. S Reynders. Dipartimento di Scienze del Linguaggio, Università Ca’Foscari (1987)
One suggests that the word derives from the Milanese, “pan del ton,” meaning “cake of luxury.”
Another states that a 15th-century legend from Milan gives the invention to the nobleman falconer Ughetto Atellani, who loved Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. To help her, the nobleman disguised himself as a baker and invented a rich cake to which he added flour and yeast, butter, eggs, dried raisins, and candied lemon and orange peel.
The duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro Sforza (1452–1508), agreed to the marriage, which was held in the presence of Leonardo da Vinci, and encouraged the launch of the new bread-like cake: Pan de Toni (or Toni’s cake).
Another legend credits the cake’s being invented in the court of the Sforzas, but with the following story:
It was Christmas and the court cook had no dessert to offer. So the guests were given a sweet bread baked by a mere kitchen boy, called Toni, which won general praise. Rather than steal the praise for himself, the cook congratulated his assistant and named it after him.
The third, says that the invention was the work of sister Ughetta, which in Milanese means raisins. – source