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Panettone: legends and secrets of Christmas’s favorite sweet treat

Taste / -

panettone img rif

It would not be Christmas without a slice of panettone. With its soft dough; fragrant, rich in butter, eggs, raisins and candied fruit, it welcomes the Christmas season. Stanislao Porzio, creator and organizer of the event "Re Panettone," speaks of the history, legends and secrets of the world's favorite sweet Milanese cake: panettone.

Panettone was not always what we know now. Once it was shorter, and with much less butter. Stanislao Porzio is so fond of this sweet pastry that in 2007 he wrote a monograph on the subject and the following year he created Re Panettone, a festival that takes place in Milan during the Christmas period and that showcases the creations of the best  and curious Master Italian and international Confectioners.
How is the authentic panettone made?
There are precise rules because anot just any pastry product can be called "panettone". There was a ministerial decree made on July 22, 2005 citing the ingredients and the characteristics of some traditional Italian desserts; such as macaroons, ladyfingers, the colomba, the Pandora and, of course, it could not miss out on the panettone. The classic Milanese confectionary must be of a soft texture and produced by fermentation from natural sourdough. It must be made with wheat flour, sugar and eggs, but with a higher percentage of whites than yolks. Then there are the raisins and candied citrus peel in amounts not less than 16 percent,   also butter in amounts not less than sixteen percent, yeast and salt. On the subject of panettone all si quite serious!
Some other "special element"?
There is the "scoring", i.e. the crossed incision that is done on the surface of the cake before it is fired. It is an important symbol and in the Christian tradition it was the way to bless the bread. From the intersection of the two cuts four right angles are formed, the tips of which it curl during cooking, creating the so-called "ears of the cake." Some confectioners apply a bit of butter under the spikes before baking the cake, so that the top of the cake acquires a particular color. Others, in place of the cross, "draw" a sort of asterisk, to make their product more recognizable.
How was the panettone born?
Originally, it was more like a loaf of bread. The first documents that talk about it say that on the night of December 24:  brought to the table were three large loaves of wheat, a number that refers to the Trinity. It was a special moment, because usually the bread was made with a mixture of less noble wheat grains, because it was very expensive. Christmas, however, was an exception. The three breads were served to diners starting with the father of the family and a slice was preserved until next year, to symbolize continuity, rebirth and the cyclical nature of life.
Where can we  read about this beautiful story on the ancestor of panettone?
The first to speak about it is Giorgio Valagussa, a humanist who was a tutor at the Sforza household and had among his pupils, Ludovico il Moro. Now a manuscript version of that document dating back to 1470 is preserved in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan and  a modern version can be found in the book, “Il Panettone prima del Panettone” (Panettone before the Panettone).  I really wanted to tell this story because it was easily accessible to all.
The cake that we know today, however, is very different from a loaf ...
Yes, the route was long. In the sixteenth century in a book by Ortensio Lando, a Milanese scholar, it is called an enriched bread made with "anise and butter to make it more delicious"; but the bread was not tied to Christmas time. The first real definition of a cake, similar to what we know today, is in the dictionary by Cherubini, of 1839, which reads: "A type of wheat bread decorated with butter, eggs, sugar and raisins or sultanas" . But we must remember that, when the dictionary adds a new "voice" to its pages, the custom has already been established in society, and therefore has become customary. We can therefore assume that that type of sweet and rich bread was commonly produced at least 30 or 40 years prior, if not more. Note that the Cherubini had not yet mentioned yeast.
And when did it arrive?
The first recipe that speaks of yeast is in the book of 1853 by Giovanni Felice Luraschi,  entitled “Nuovo cuoco milanese economico” (New Milanese Economic Cook). The author speaks of yeast and intends the natural yeast, that is from sour dough of flour and water that ferments alone, usually called "the mother". Even today it is the only type of yeast allowed to make the true panettone. All cookbooks of those times speak of "Milanese" panettone and there is no doubt that this dessert was born in Milan.
Can you tell us an anecdote linked to the history of the panettone?
There's one very interesting that few know of. At first panettone was like a large loaf and was placed directly in the oven, as is done, for example, for the bread of Puglia. It was not put into a mold and it remained low and wide because the leavening was not directed upwards. Then the turning point came in the twenties, thanks to Angelo Motta, who at the time had a pastry shop on Via Chiusa, near  Piazza Vetra, near the Columns of San Lorenzo in Milan, and there was Mr. Rijoff, a Russian who emigrated to Italy to save the Bolshevik Revolution. Along with many other Russian immigrants who settled in Milan, they had founded a substantial community. Easter arrives and Mr. Rijoff goes to Motta to order two hundred Kulich, a traditional sweet leavened bread, that has the characteristic of being put into cylindrical molds before being fired. The pastry chef from Milan probably took inspiration from the sweet Russian bread and applied the idea to panettone, surrounding it with strips of paper-straw to help it rise upwards. In this way the panettone  was bought to the form we know today, "a champagne cork." In the fifties the “pirottino” was included, a sheath of paper with a bottom and that guides it upwards.
Are there other differences between the cake of today and that of the past?
Today we certainly use a greater amount of butter, which makes the sweet tastier. About forty years ago, the classical relationship between flour and butter was a kilogram of flour for 400 grams of butter. Some pastry chefs manage to create panettone with an even greater amount of butter. Achille Zoia of Boutique Dolce Concorezzo (MB), for example, who is considered the father of the modern panettone, managed to exceed 700 grams of butter per kilo of flour. It takes great technical and professional skills, because as more and more fat is added to the dough, leavening becomes more difficult, and it is essential that a cake, although rich and flavorful, maintains a smooth dough with a nice large bubbles. Achille Zoia succeeds perfectly. In addition he was, I believe, the first to replace the candied fruit, adding to the raisins, chocolate chips and walnuts:  he kicked off a trend that today unleashes the creativity of confectioners.
When it comes to trends ... what are the ones around the "panettone"?
For sure, savory panettone: Mauro Morandin of Saint-Vincent (AO) creates a truffle version, the Pregiata Forneria Lenti di Grottaglie (TA) does one with olives and The Pasticceria Servi of Rome makes one with pears and cheese or with Robiola of Roccaverano.
Talking about sustainability, is it important when it comes to food?
Yes, in fact, since the edition 2011 we created for the Custodi del Panettone (The Keepers of Panettone) Prize, packaging has become more sustainable, more creative and more functional, this year was it was won by the Pasticceria Guerrino of Fano (PU) and the Pane & Oil Bakery in Tokyo. The first presented a highly essential packaging in cardboard, glue-free, fully recyclable and, despite its austerity, very festive and cheerful. The second wrapped its panettone in a colored cloth, knotted in a very original way, recalling the ancient Japanese tradition of presenting gifts in a typical bundle.
Which of the international creations really struck you most during this edition of Re Panettone?
The one from Pane & Olio of Tokyo, the bakery by Teru Kobayashi and Giancarlo De Rosa. It got a mention in the Sweets category  as it was innovatively raised  for the whole year with a mixture sweet ginger and nuts, giving an oriental touch to the basic classic Milanese panettone.
DO you have something in mind for Expo Milano 2015?
First of all I would like to mention that this year, on the occasion of the seventh edition, the Master Iginio Massari from Brescia presented an artisan panettone dedicated Expo. Do not expect anything strange: it is a super ultra-traditional Panettone and, if you taste it, you pass out from how good it is. During Expo Milano 2015 I would like to organize an exhibition dedicated to the past, the present and the future of this cake that I love so much. It will be an exhibition that combines art, music, old books, debates, moments of tasting and demonstrations with pastry chefs from around the world. And  I dream of a pastry shop laboratory that is always open for anyone who wants to have the opportunity to taste, to buy, but also to learn how to create a good panettone with their own hands.

Norbert Niederkofler. The mountain is a philosophy of life

Taste / -

Norbert Niederkofler chef img rif

The mountain as a philosophy of life, of respect for nature that pays off with genuine products fit for haute cuisine. Norbert Niederkofler, the chef with two Michelin stars, has created a network to protect the mountain, bringing together chefs, farmers, ranchers, climbers, naturalists, sociologists and entrepreneurs of mountain regions around the world.

What does the mountain mean to you?
It is a philosophy of life. It stands for a respect for nature, and respect is necessary, because if you do not love the mountain territory you will not survive. The mountain teaches us how to put ourselves into the background, to take a step back. We must adapt to nature and not vice versa.

You were born in Ahrntal in South Tyrol. What are your fondest memories?
My childhood memories are linked to the kitchens of houses and farms, with their warm, cozy ambience, especially when it was cold outside. I remember that feeling of safety and security. We would all sit around a table, eating together, and every day we would go pick up fresh milk from local farmers. My favorite dish was Riebl: buckwheat omelet with potatoes and butter. Today I offer a new version of it at my restaurant, to accompany game dishes, enhanced with mushrooms and blueberries.

Is there a food you would save immediately?
"Ground almonds", small roots that 500 years ago were toasted and used just as coffee beans are today. They are good boiled, sautéed or crushed to a purée.

Which dish do you connect with most?
A dish reminiscent of the garden: potato gnocchi and beetroot, with white and red radishes and beer grounds. The grounds are made with pane pücia, an ancient bread that was preserved for a long time. Once, in the mountain there was only one oven, which was "shared" among all the inhabitants. Bread was only made once a month. At the beginning they ate the bread soft, and then it was placed in racks to dry in the attics, where thanks to the recirculation of air, it could dry out without going moldy. My particular version is mixed with charcoal as a reminder of the color and texture of the earth.

What is sustainability for you?
It means using a product in its entireity, and mountain cuisine is the master of this. Now we are used to eating only filet steak, but there are only two of them. We forget that, if the animal is well bred, not only will the filet steak be good, but also the belly, the tail and the head. Just respect them and know how to cook them. Today, there is much talk of seasonality, but in the mountains it happens naturally: recipes necessarily follow the rhythms of nature. In summer the dishes smell of herbs, berries and mushrooms, and you "work" to store the food you will eat in the winter. When the first snow falls, it can be hard to find even potatoes.

At Expo Gate "Cook the Mountain" was part of the project Milano Montagna presented last October. What can you tell us about it?
It is an idea that was born five years ago in partnership with Hugo Pizzinini and the Province of Bolzano. The project aims to give an identity to the well-defined gastronomy of Alto Adige, in step with the times, and as a mirror of local specialties, creating deep synergies among chefs, wine producers and, of course, agriculture. The goal is to preserve the culture of the mountain, passing it on to future generations, so that they can draw inspiration from it. If we do not defend the mountain, we lose a unique heritage of traditions, products and recipes. What are needed are initiatives to promote mountain life, or else young people will be increasingly tempted to move to the city, where life is simpler. And let’s not underestimate the hydrogeological risk: without care for the mountain, territorial disasters can occur. Just consider landslides, which are increasingly frequent, and which present real risk to people. "Cook the Mountain" starts from South Tyrol, but personally, I would like it to extend around the world, because in the end "high-altitude" life is the same everywhere, with the same principles and the same challenges to obtaining raw materials.

So mountain culture unites the world?
Yes, because it is based on the same principles and the same needs. For example in South Tyrol is produced Graukäse, a Slow Food Presidium cheese that belongs to the family of "Sauerkäse", acid coagulation cheeses that do not make use of rennet, widespread in the Alps in Tyrol. This in itself is proof of its ancient origins. Cows were brought in summer to the mountain pastures and from the milk came cream and from the cream, butter. Of course, the product that remained was also precious and so we have this hard "poor man’s" cheese, but at the same time it is very good. On the plateaus of Tibet the same preparation is applied to yak’s milk.

How was Graukäse used?
It was eaten with bread, a drop of vegetable oil, wine vinegar and a small amount of finely chopped onion. Today, with the same ingredients, we can prepare a risotto with "Graukäse" foam, braised onions, bread crumbs and pane pücia for a crunchy touch. You see, even a simple ingredient, treated in the right way and interpreted with creativity, can become the star of an haute cuisine dish.

From the Corn and Avocado Flavor of Mexico to the Gutturnio From Piacenza… A Festival of Special Edition Ice Creams

Taste / -

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Gutturnio wine ice cream at Piazzetta Piacenza
Four new flavors of ice cream made from Poretti beer at the Italian Pavilion.
© Padiglione Italia
Poretti beer ice cream at Piazzetta Piacenza
Tomato ice cream served on slices of bread at Piazzetta Piacenza
Helados de Paila ice cream made with premium cocoa from Ecuador and coconut sugar, at the Cocoa and Chocolate Cluster
© Andrea Proietti
Fig ice cream at the Bahrain Pavilion
© Francesco Cappa
Basil sorbet created by chef Davide Oldani
Mourad Balti Touati © Expo 2015
Watermelon and mint ice cream at Gelateria Rigoletto
Mourad Balti Touati © Expo 2015
Champagne and grapefruit granita at the Monaco Pavilion
Panettone ice cream at the Cereals and Tubers Cluster
Avocado ice cream and corn ice cream at the Mexico Pavilion
The chocolate and ice cream-based "Choco cocktail" at the Cocoa and Chocolate Cluster
© Andrea Proietti
Caffarel Gianduia ice cream
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015
Ice cream packaged in Austria
Dame Blanche, with whipped cream and dark Belgian chocolate, at the Belgium Pavilion
Date ice cream at the Bahrain Pavilion
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015
My Magnum at the Magnum Pleasure Store
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015
Nutella ice cream at Expo Milano 2015
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015
Vanilla ice cream from Israel at Expo Milano 2015
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015
White melon granita from Sweet Sicily, in the Bio-Mediterraneum Cluster
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015
Alpine milk ice cream
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015
Grana Padano ice cream from Copagri at Expo Milano 2015
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015
Pernigotti ice cream at Expo Milano 2015
Giulia Mazzoleni © Expo 2015
Foody-flavored ice cream from Rigoletto at Expo Milano 2015
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015
Baobab ice cream at the Angola Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015
Andrea Mariani © Expo 2015

The Ferragosto holiday was an ideal day for proposing new ideas, experiments and surprising typical ingredients from different countries, sponsors and Pavilions… all expressed with ice cream, or "gelato" as they say in Italy. A triumph of deliciousness!

Various Pavilions took advantage of this special occasion to inaugurate new flavors, or to offer one-day tasting events to spread awareness of the gastronomic possibilities of ice cream. The Bahrain Pavilion proposed a new Fig Ice Cream recipe. Monte Carlo offered a delicious granita with Champagne Riviera and pink grapefruit. Israel a free tasting event with four new flavors. In Palazzo Italia, Rigoletto Ice Cream and the Poretti Brewery provided ice creams based on four special beers and one new invention, watermelon with mint.
Mexico was rightly proud of two typical and extremely fragrant flavors: avocado and corn, with crushed and toasted flakes of corn incorporated. In Piazzetta Piacenza an entire afternoon was devoted to tasting ice creams made from local ingredients like pumpkin, local craft beers, organic tomatoes, asparagus and an extravagant version with Gutturnio red wine. In the Cocoa and Chocolate Cluster, already well-stocked with ice cream stalls, a tasting event featured traditional pure cocoa ice cream, followed up by inebriating cocktails with ice cream.
A festival whose goodness was not only gastronomic: for example, the initiative by
Algida Ice Creams, which throughout the day sold its Share the Love cone at one euro, with the profits devoted to Save the Children projects, and Rigoletto Ice Creams which twinned the launch of its new watermelon and mint flavor with support for social initiatives.

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