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.
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.