It's Christmas morning. The sound of firecrackers woke me. This is a tradition in Italy, shooting off noisemakers in celebration. Some of the cities put on fireworks displays but the kids love to light firecrackers. Some of them sound like big bombs going off. Around midnight we heard a long volley and then again this morning.
Yesterday was a lovely day, if a bit cold, at least the sun was shining and the sky was blue. In the morning we walked around Cava de'Tirenni, a town I like more and more every time I go there. I especially love the main arcaded street, now decorated for Christmas, it's just so festive. The day before we joined the rest of the crazy last minute shoppers at the big supermercato there. It was a zoo as you might expect in any grocery store the day before Christmas and I started making up my own words to the Christmas classic "soon it will be Christmas Day" - "Children screaming, people coughing, Panettone piled high"...you get the picture. The buying and giving of the Panettone is quite a phenomenon here. I wonder if Italians actually do any baking in their own homes, there are so many wonderful sweet things to be found everywhere. The more gorgeous (think "expensive") ones of course are in the windows of the pasticcerie, the bakeries. I saw one gold wrapped cake, paired with a bottle of expensive wine with a whopping price tag of 70 euros! Everywhere you go there are piles of these boxes of Panettone cakes, in all sorts of flavor combinations, and shoppers with at least one or two in their carts. The basic one comes with a little packet of powdered sugar to sprinkle on later. The expiration date of these things is, like Easter I think. There is the classic one, of course, with candied fruit and raisins, one with vanilla cream inside, one with chocolate, one for diabetics, without sugar, and more than I can remember now.
Historically, from what I have been able to find out, they were first made in Milan. The Panettone is THE symbolic Christmastime cake in Italy.
One of the big bakers of these cakes is a company called Bauli (www.bauli.it). They are based in Verona and we went there before we left that city. We bought a cake to take to our friends Sergio and Rita, thinking it was a pure Veronese treat, but came to realize that these cakes are everywhere. Like the Perugina chocolates, you can buy them anywhere it Italy (and around the word I suspect!). Last Christmas, Elio's brother Salvatore took one of the plain ones and cut it into a Christmas tree shape and added rum and other things to dress it up and created a very gorgeous dessert. The actual cake part of it seems a cross between a yellow cake and a loaf of bread. I've had fun this morning reading online some of the legends surrounding its origin. Here are a few excerpts from one of the sites (www.sanpellegrino.com): (to our friend Dennis in Phoenix, this is for you)
"The most accredited story regarding the invention of panettone features one of Ludovico il Moro's falconers named Toni, who was in love with the daughter of a struggling baker. He sold off two of his lord's hunting falcons (which could have cost him his life) in order to purchase some butter. Having found work as an assistant in the family bakery of his beloved and having renounced his "nobler" origins, the young falconer began to make his special dessert bread, flavoring it with butter, eggs, candied fruit and raisins. He then sold it to the local clients, who became growingly enthusiastic about his creation. Thanks to this invention he was graced with love, success and wealth, and "pan di Toni" ("Toni's bread") soon became the most popular dessert among the Milanese, who took up the tradition of giving it as a gift during the Christmas season."
"Another story, another protagonist. In this last case, a humble nun called Suor Ughetta, who wanted to make a tasty gift for the poor. To her bread dough she added eggs, sugar, candied fruit and raisins. When she'd baked this special bread (the top of which she'd sliced in a cross form as a blessing), she realized how delicious it was... as did all the townspeople, who began to make generous offerings at the convent just so they could get their hands on a slice of this very special dessert."
Very sweet stuff.
Rosemary e Robert