The king of Milanese pastry shops

by Rebecca Foscarini
Panettone, the king of Milanese pastry shops — Lombardia Secrets

A true Milanese institution whose history takes us back to the court of Ludovico Sforza, famous for his legendary parties.

According to tradition, Panettone was born in 1495, at the court of Ludovico Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan known as il Moro, when, during the sumptuous Christmas Eve banquet, the cook forgot the cake in the oven and ended up burning it. A servant named Toni then tried to create a new dessert by putting together various leftover ingredients, thus creating what would become the “Pan de Toni”.

Legends aside, it seems that already in the Middle Ages it was customary at Christmas to consume a rich bread in front of the fireplace. During the year, in fact, bakers were forbidden to produce wheat bread, a prerogative of the Lords, with the only exception of Christmas, when it was enriched with butter, eggs and sugar and defined as “Pan de Siori” or “Pan de Toni”.

In the ancient version, the cake was not as high as we see it today and was free of yeast. It was in the 1920s that Angelo Motta, founder of the famous confectionery company, gave it the shape we know, becoming a pioneer of its industrial production. In fact, he decided to revisit the original recipe to give it a softer texture, which would please modern palates. He thus added mother yeast and a greater quantity of eggs and butter to the dough, enclosing everything inside a vertical cylinder to allow the Panettone to develop in height.

Panettone, the king of Milanese pastry shops — Lombardia Secrets
Panettone, the king of Milanese pastry shops — Lombardia Secrets

Based on a leavened dough made with flour, eggs, butter, sugar, raisins and candied fruit, today every pâtissier chef proposes his own version of Panettone, from the gourmand one with grappa, spices and gold leaves to the salty one with rich fillings such as cream cheese, smoked salmon and avocado.

Tradition wants that Panettone is purchased strictly in pastry shops, where the artisan product is embellished with designer packaging, or in small artisan bakeries, such as Le Polveri in Sant’Ambrogio, a real gem managed by the wonderful chemist baker Aurora Zancanaro.

In Milan, the historic pastry shops are a cult destination, so much so that, in addition to those still family-runned – such as Cucchi, Castelnuovo, Clivati, Giacomo, Sant’Ambroeus and Sissi – even the super luxury brands have invested to keep their timeless charm alive, like Marchesi 1824 and Cova, respectively part of the Prada Group and LVMH.

And it is precisely in one of these patisseries, characterized by comfortable velvet seats, gilded mirrors, boiserie and crystal cake stands, that today you can see the real Milanesi, intent on reading the newspaper or chatting while enjoying a puff pastry cannoncino with the classic cappuccino.

Why you will love it
Panettone also seems to have miraculous properties: at Christmas just put one aside and then, after having it blessed, eat it on 03 February, San Biagio’s day. According to tradition, the Saint, protector of the throat and nose, will ward off seasonal ailments.

Where to taste it
In one of the historic Milanese pastry shops, such as Marchesi, founded in 1824, which in addition to the traditional Panettone also offers a delicious version with chocolate and pears, or the Pasticceria Cova, founded in 1817, where it is made all year round according to an ancient recipe secret.

The perfect pairing
With mascarpone cream and a glass of Moscato or Franciacorta demi-sec.

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