Panettone appeared in northern Italy around the 15th century. It probably originated in Milan, since this naturally leavened bread has always been closely associated with the city, the capital of Lombardy. However, somewhat similar although less sophisticated breads have been made throughout Italy since at least the days of imperial Rome.
Most probably professional bakers developed Panettone and were largely or entirely responsible for its production from the beginning, since the process involved is highly complex and requires facilities and equipment that the home kitchen usually lacked in the past.
It is doubtful that this famous specialty bread appeared on the scene in a form familiar to consumers throughout the world today. It evolved over the centuries as new techniques were adopted and the quality of the raw materials used in its preparation improved.
The custom of consuming Panettone, especially during the year-end holiday season, spread from Milan throughout Italy, from the Alps in the north to Sicily in the south.
As the bread’s popularity grew, people began to speculate about its origin. As a result, Panettone spawned many legends. The most popular concerns a young Milanese nobleman, a member of the Atellini family, who fell in love with the daughter of a baker named Toni. To impress the girl’s father, the young man disguised himself as a baker’s boy and invented a sweet, wonderful bread of rare delicacy and unusual size with a top shaped like a church dome. This new, fruitcake-like bread enjoyed enormous success, with people coming to the bakery in droves at all hours to purchase the magnificent Pan de Toni (or Tony’s Bread).
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