The leavened cake made with a base of water, flour, butter, eggs plus the addition of dried fruits and nuts is a traditional staple in the Italian—and by extension the Italian-American—tables during the Christmas season. We have all watched our dear grandmothers and mothers bake it at home or in modern times accompany them to our favorite bakery to buy them.
What is the origin of this simple yet delicious accoutrement of festivities? There are two major legends and both arise from Milano in the Middle Ages.
The first legend says that the cooks preparing a big banquet hosted by Ludovico il Moro, the powerful duke of the city, had forgotten to take out the dessert from the oven, which ended up as pure carbon. A humble kitchen helper called Toni prepared an impromptu cake with the kitchen leftovers. The head cook was reluctant to present that novelty in the master’s table but he finally agreed, hiding behind a curtain to peek at the guests’ reaction. Everybody loved it including Ludovico who inquired who had prepared it. The cook came out of hiding, saying: “L’è ‘l pan del Toni”, i.e. il panettone.
The second one tells the passionate love that a young nobleman called Ulivo degli Atellani de Futi, a.k.a Toni, had for Algissa, the gorgeous daughter of a baker from the quarter of Contrada delle Grazie. Observing that the girl was permanently courted by many aspiring lovers that she invariably rejected, he devised a novel plan to seduce her. Camouflaging himself as a humble man, he was hired by her father to tend the wood oven in the early dawn, One day he mixed the best flour he could find with eggs, butter, honey and sultanina grapes and he clandestinely prepared the dough; then he baked it in the oven. When his boss came to check on his work, he was very impressed by it; he put it for sale in his stalls, becoming an instant success for the establishment.
When Algissa found out what he had done, she became infatuated with him. Except for the occasional gold-digger only interested in material goods, most women would appreciate that noble, original gesture inspired by his strong affection for her.
As the great playwright Jean Baptiste de Poquelin (Molière) sagely told us: “La grande ambition des femmes c’est d’inspirer l’amour.”
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.