Panettone: How the Italian Christmas Cake Came to Be

Around Christmas time, panettones go out like hot cakes (quite literally)! Translated to ‘large cake’ in English, panettones have become world-famous during this time of year. The Italian Christmas cake is filled with raisins and can come in a variety of different flavours like the ones we carry at Sweet Boutique!


But how did the panettone come to be the official Italian Christmas cake? Well, there are several stories throughout different eras that of how panettone came to be in Italy. Whichever story is right (maybe they all are intertwined somehow?), we’re just happy we have the panettone we know and love today. We can’t imagine a life without it – we love making panettones for you all! So here are all the different stories about the panettone’s past and how it originated.

It All Started with the Ancient Romans

Are you surprised to hear the Romans were the original inventors of the panettone? The Romans invented everything! But it’s been said that they created a rising-dough bread made with honey. It didn’t resemble a panettone much in any way, but they were responsible for the idea behind bread and sweet bread with honey. So, we have to give some credit to them!

A Milanese Love Story Made It Really Take Off

The most popular and recognized story of how panettones came to be is a Milanese love story. We really hope this one is true because it’s adorable!

There was a young rich man named Ughetto degli Atellani living in Milan in 1494. This was a really exciting time for Italy! So, the story goes that Ughetto was deeply in love with a young woman named Adalgisa. The only problem: his family was very wealthy, and hers was not. This meant that if Ughetto asked for Adalgisa’s hand in marriage, the Duke would not give his blessing.

So, this is where the panettone part of the story comes in. Ughetto planned to impress Adalgisa’s father who wasn't wealthy but was a baker. If Ughetto invented a new type of bread to impress her father and the Duke, he could then marry Adalgisa!

He threw together a bunch of ingredients no one had ever mixed before – eggs, butter, raisins, candied orange peels, lemon and orange zest, and citron. The bread was, of course, successful, and the Duke loved it so much he granted them their wedding. The bread then became popular in Milan.

Its Shape Came from a Hat

In Christian theology, there is a story of a holy man named Father Antonio who never took his ecclesiastic hat off. For anyone who isn’t aware, ecclesiastical brothers are people who oversee the religious law of the land. Because Father Antonio always wore his hat, he was said to be very “fond of his ‘pane,’’ like the beginning part of the word panettone! This hat shape was then widely adopted by everyone in Italy. That’s where the panettone shape began.

It’s Now Popular Worldwide Due to a ‘Panettone War’ 

It’s said that panettone is well-known worldwide today because of a ‘panettone war’ between Italy and the rest of the world! No, countries were not having a panettone food fight, but they were using the recipe in their own countries. 

Back in the 1900s, there were only two Italian bakers who saw the hidden potential of panettone and wanted to sell them all over Italy. A man named Angelo Motta was the best innovator of the panettone we know today. He took on the modern shape and let the bread rise three times in 24 hours. Did you read that? A whole day!

Then there was Gioacchino Alemagna, who discovered this method and created his own brand. Yup, he fully profited off another man’s idea, tisk tisk. This is how the panettone war started and what makes it so popular worldwide. Immigrants brought panettones to South American countries like Argentina and Brazil to share them around there country. The South American ones use candied papaya instead of the traditional fruit fillings – that was their distinguishing factor!

Order a Panettone from Sweet Boutique!

All these stories are truly incredible, and as we mentioned earlier, we’re very happy we have panettone to enjoy and bake today! Now, next time you’re indulging in a panettone you can think of its history and how it came to be. Tell the hat story or the Milan love story at the Christmas dinner table this year! And, you know where to get the best panettone in the GTA - only at Sweet Boutique! 

We are famous for our panettone and pandoro! Order yours online today by clicking here! We have traditional panettone with dried fruit, plain pandoro, or pandoro with lemon or chocolate filling. You won’t want to miss our authentic Christmas cakes this December!

We provide fast and free shipping within Toronto and the GTA when you spend over $40. So, what are you waiting for? Order today!