Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Don't mess with Panettone

Proud Milanese bakers and pastry chefs took a first step on Tuesday toward protecting the city's famous panettone Christmas cake from inferior copies, publishing their request for an official European "brand."

Panettone, a sponge-like cake often studded with raisins and candied fruit, is a Christmas treat across Italy, and Italians are expected to spend a total of 360 million euros ($480 million) on them this year alone. There are many stories about the possible origin of the cake -- one of the most often repeated holds that a nobleman disguised as a baker's assistant invented it to woo Algisa, the beautiful daughter of a Milan baker.

Others say Toni, a cook for Milanese nobleman Ludovico il Moro, invented it when ingredients for regular bread ran out, hence "pan di toni," or Toni's bread.

In reality, the cake probably evolved from the northern Italian tradition of sharing a large loaf of bread over Christmas. Panettone now has dozens of regional varieties, from Genoa's pan dolce to nut-filled, chocolate-topped panettone from the region of Abruzzi in southern Italy, and the golden pan d'oro of Venice.