Meet the character that makes panettone an Italian favorite
When the holiday season rolls around, there's one treat you'll see in every Italian household: panettone. This towering dome of rich, fluffy bread-slash-cake is a treasured part of the celebration season, served up in slices with an espresso for an afternoon break, a glass of vin santo after dinner, or even a luxurious breakfast. It’s usually studded with dried fruits like raisins and candied citrus, although these days you’ll also find versions loaded with chocolate chips, exotic fruits, jams, and more sweet morsels.
Italy isn't the only country that bakes up a rich bread around Christmas time—Germany has stollen, the Czech Republic has vánočka, Venezuela has pan de jamon—but it does have the claim to fame of having the best origin story for the treat!
Panettone comes from northern Italy, in the area around Milan. It's there, as the story goes, that a noble falcon trainer named Ughetto fell in love with the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. In order to free her from her work at the struggling bakery, he disguised himself as a peasant and offered to work there for free in her place. Ughetto had the idea to boost sales by bringing in luxurious ingredients he paid for out of his own pocket, such as butter, eggs, and sugar. The resulting rich bread, il pan de Toni, was so successful that the daughter was able to leave her job and marry Ughetto.
Or maybe, as some families say, Toni was a young servant working in the kitchen of Ludovico il Moro, the duke of Milan. For the duke’s Christmas Eve dinner, Toni was in charge of making the desserts—but he burned them. In a panic, he mixed up some sourdough starter he’d been saving for his own meal with sugar, raisins, and candied fruits that were in the pantry and created a last-minute dessert. The duke loved it, and pan de Toni became a must-have for his holiday feasts.
The fact is that, as with so many favorite Italian dishes, these colorful stories may have absolutely nothing to do with how panettone was created. Or there may be parts of the story that are true, but they've been adorned and embroidered over the years into a completely different tale. It's impossible to know for sure—but when it comes down to it, it doesn't really matter.
Food is such an important part of Italy's daily culture and routines that folk tales like the story of Toni get told over and over, passed down from generation to generation. They keep people connected to their culinary traditions starting from a young age, and add a measure of fun and community-building to a tasty treat. If you look closely at our own Giadzy panettone boxes, you might even spot a now-familiar character: Toni himself!