All you need to know about Panettone

Panettone, the quintessential Italian dessert, is known for its tall, dome-shaped form and distinctive aromas of candied fruits. This is a short article on all you need to know about Panettone.

But where does Panettone originate from?

🗞️A short history of Panettone

Panettone is considered to be an ancient Roman invention. Romans used to bake a soft bread sweetened with honey, which is thought to have been its early precursor.

However, the first written proof of panettone dates to the Renaissance and ties the specialty bread directly to the court of the Sforza, in Milan. It was their preceptor, Giorgio Valagussa, who mentioned it in a manuscript, in 1470.

The Cherubini’s Milanese-Italian dictionary recorded in 1839 the Panatton del Natal as a type of bread made with butter, eggs, sugar, raisins and sultanas. But the candied fruit and the yeast seem to appear in the recipe only in 1853 in the Giovanni Felice Luraschi’s Nuovo Cuoco Milanese Economico cookbook. 📕👩‍🍳

The Milanese specialty became mostly popular in the early 1920s, when Angelo Motta started producing his eponymous brand of cakes. It was also Motta who revolutionized the traditional panettone by giving it its tall domed shape by making the dough rise three times, for almost 20 hours, before cooking, giving it its now-familiar light texture. Add to that temperature, timing and masterful technique and you have one of the most difficult to master desserts in the life of a pastry chef. Of course the recipe was adapted by another baker who became Motta’s competitor, G. Alemagna. Both of them are now owned by Bauli, an Italian company in Verona.

All you need to know about panettone
Credit: Massimo Adami

What does the word Panettone🔡 mean really?

Although the origin of the word is not confirmed, Panettone contains the word Pane which means bread. Or it may have come from panetto which means small cake. However, it is still unknown how it was associated with Christmas

The first recorded association of panettone with Christmas can be found in the Italian writings of 18th century illuminist Pietro Verri. Verri refers to it as “Pan de Ton” meaning luxury bread. He obviously made references to the extravagant for the time ingredients, including the candied orange peels and raisins. 

Legends make reference to the clerical hat Pane Tone that had the same shape of the panettone and it may have given birth to the famous cake shape.

There are endless legends about the birth of the this sweet bread. Adalgisa, the beautiful daughter of a baker adored by a Nobleman who, in order to win her heart, pretended to be a baker and got a job at her father’s bakery. He succeeded with his new recipe: the bread made with the addition of flour, eggs, butter, sugar and sultanas, the first panettone. The bakery was saved from bankruptcy, got more clients and Adalgisa married the Nobleman.

A different legend says that the panettone was created by accident when the traditional Christmas cake was burnt at the Milan’s House of Sforza Christmas dinner. An assistant cook named Toni created this amazing tradition with leftover eggs, sugar, flour, lemon peels, butter, and raisins. As his name was Toni the caked was named after him as the Pan del Toni.

Ingredients 🏷️: what is inside Panettone?

In premodern time and in order to be appropriate for festive celebrations, pastries and desserts were made with key ingredients that were hard to find and expensive to purchase, not largely available for the nonelite.  European sweet breads suitable for Christmas were made with dough from refined wheat flour enriched with eggs, milk, and butter and seasoned with sugar, spices, and candied fruit.

Therefore their historical legacy originated not only from the required  effort  for their preparation but also from the  actual value of all the ingredients. The less refined wheat flour and flours form other grains such as rye, millet, barley, and oats, were seldom found in holiday confections.

Although Panettone is not Protected Designation of Origin,  in order to be labeled as such, a native panettone must be composed of at least 20 percent candied fruit, 16 percent butter, and eggs that are at least four percent yolk. Few panettoni reach this level of “perfection” so check the ingredients before you buy: is there butter or margarine, egg yolks or powdered eggs, candied fruit or just dried? Click here to find out the production standards in Italian.

All you need to know about Panettone
My panettone for this year’s Christmas

The Association of Italian Confectionary Industries (AIDI) is pushing the Italian government for protection of the pastry. So far, the brands that meet the AIDI requirements are rather few and include  Alemagna, Bauli, Flamingi, Maina, Motta, Perugina, Le Tre Marie, and Valentino.

Panettone production today🌐

Italian bakers are said to produce a little less than 100 million panettoni each year, around  7,100 tons and about ten percent is sold internationally before and during Christmas holidays. Italians are said to consume on average two-and-a-half panettoni per family per year. It is not surprising that Panettone is everywhere and is found in the UK, Argentina, USA, Brazil and many more countries.

Where to buy in the USA

Panettone is ubiquitous during the holidays in the USA. You will find it in your local grocery store, specialty stores as well as online retails. features a good selection of both Italian imported and locally produced panettoni as well as the Gianduia Panettone Italian Cake from Italy on Other retails include Neiman Marcus with Dolce & Gabbana Il Panettone alle Mandorle di Sicilia and Italian importers in various parts of the country.

National grocery stores make their own panettone with their own brand name -from Whole Foods to Trader Joe’s and ShopRite – and if you are lucky to live in an area with an artisanal bakery you will probably get one there too. You can also order online directly from Italy as early as November to make sure that it will arrive on time for Christmas.

How to eat Panettone

Italians love it plain, with mascarpone cream or even Nutella! Hot cocoa pairs well and Prosecco for a more grown-up choice. Of  course today there are plenty of variations of the original recipe. You can find it with dark chocolate, chocolate chips, pistachios, dry fig, saffron, hazelnut cream, and many more!

The Fiasconaro Panettone in plastic
Ready to eat!

Where is the 📑recipe?

WD decided not to make any Panettone recipe this year. The tedious and long recipe takes up to two days to make, many times to test and requires the mastery of an Italian pastry chef. But we discovered  the most original recipe from Italy in Italian! It takes two days to make and if you hire a translator to have it translated for you, you can make it on your own. Click here to view it.

Did you make this? Capture a snapshot of your dessert and share it with us on Instagram by tagging @theistravels or using the hashtag #wedesserts. We can’t wait to admire your creation!

The Panettone 🎁 for Christmas

This year I bought the Fiasconaro traditional Panettone at a local grocery store. It is imported from Italy, nicely wrapped in red and makes the perfect Christmas-y dessert!

All you need to know about Panettone

Look at the ingredients in this picture. What do you see?

Ingredients and Nutrition facts
My panettone with ingredients and nutrition facts

It features a light taste, smells wonderfully and is not too sweet. So, cut a slice and enjoy with a glass of Prosecco!

More articles about holidays and celebrations? Check one here

Did you make this? Capture a snapshot of your dessert and share it with us on Instagram by tagging @theistravels or using the hashtag #wedesserts. We can’t wait to admire your creation!

Posts on this blog may contain affiliate links from Amazon Associates. That means if you click and buy, I may receive a small commission