Some traditional Christmas deserts have stories that are almost as magical as the holiday itself.
The Panettone legend, for example, has a couple of different versions.
One is a love story: In the city of Milano during the 15th century, a baker named Tony had a beautiful daughter Adalgisa. A wealthy young man, Ughetto della Tela, fell in love with the Adalgisa and wanted to marry her, but he knew his family would oppose the marriage. So he offered himself to assist her in her chores and to improve their bread by adding some butter and dry fruits, which was too expensive for Toni's bakery. The bread was an immediate success. Tony’s bakery prospered and he became very wealthy and Ughetto married Adalgisa.
Another version said that on Christmas Eve, Duke Ludovico il Moro of Milano, hosted a dinner. For the occasion, the head of the kitchen had prepared a special dessert, but it was burned while cooking. Toni, the kitchen garbage boy, suggested that a cake be prepared by using ingredients that could be salvaged from the burned cake. The head chef, having nothing else to choose from, decided to risk everything. Shorthly thereafter, an unusual dome-shaped “sweet bread" was introduced to the guests. Flavored with candied fruit and butter, the cake was immediate success. The Duke then baptized the cake with the name of its creator "pane del Toni"- Toni's bread.
This recipe is for four big loafs of Panettone, that you can definitely divide in any sizes that fit your needs. I didn't want to change it because the recipe is from an original Bo Frieberg's Professional Pastry Chef cookbook manual that I got from my friend who is a professional baker.
for 4 regular loaves (split in 4)
55 gr (2 oz) fresh yeast
2 cups warm water
170 gr (6 oz) powder sugar
6 egg yolks (about half a cup)
1 tbs salt
grated zest of 2 lemons
1 tbs orange flower water
1220 gr (2 lb, 11 oz ) bread flour
225 gr (8 oz) soft unsalted butter
170 gr (6 oz) golden raisins
115 gr (4 oz) candied orange peel
Dissolve the yeast in a warm water. Beat sugar and egg yolks. Add it to the dissolved yeast with salt, lemon zest, orange flower water, butter and all but a 1/4 cup of flour. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic (regulate it with the remaining flour). Cover and let it rise until double. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour as well as raisins and orange peel.
Line the inside of a panettone molds with a baking paper, or if you don't have the molds use four metal cans. Put a dough in and let it rise again and when it's ready to bake, brush with an egg wash.
Bake at 180C (375F) for about 35 min, or until it's baked thoroughly. Take them out of the molds/cans after baking to prevent from sagging.
I added this next cake as an Italian version of a very popular North American Carrot cake. I think you'll find it very sophisticated with a subtle almond aroma!
300 gr (3/4 lb) carrots
100 gr (1/4 lb) blanched almonds
30 gr (3 tbs) crumbled amaretti cookies
4 eggs, separated
1/3 cup sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
30 gr (3 tbs) cornstarch
1/2 tsp dry yeast
oil and breadcrumbs for the mold
Finely grate carrots. Finely grind almonds and crumble amaretti cookies. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar, add lemon zest and cornstarch, yeast and pinch of salt. Stir in the carrots, almonds, and amaretti. Combine well. Beat the egg whites and gently fold in the mixture, little by little. Grease round cake pan and dust with bread crumbs. Pour the batter into it.
Cook in the oven on 175C (375F) for 45 min. Cover the cake with foil after first 15 minutes of baking. Dust with confectioners sugar.
Next cake, Certosino, is less famous than Panettone but not less exquisite. It comes from the area of Bologna. It's light and mellow. It can be preserved for 2-3 months! This is the original Italian recipe from the famous food writer Anna del Conte. It is lighter and has more of that orange-lemony taste preferred by Italians...
Certosino (Bolognese Christmas fruit cake)
2 tbs (30ml) Marsala wine or sherry
7 tbs clear honey
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
3 tbs (40g) unsalted butter
1 tbsp anise seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups (350g) plain flour
2/3 cup (150g) apple puree
1 1/4 cup (150g) blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (50g) pine nuts
75g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup (140 gr) orange and lemon candied peels, chopped
1/2 tbsp baking soda
cake tin, buttered and lined (25cm)
4 tbsp apricot jam to glaze
blanched whole almonds
glacé fruits/crystallized fruits
Soak the raisins in the Marsala or Sherry for 20 minutes, and while they’re steeping, preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Measure the flour and baking soda out into a large bowl. Heat the honey, sugar, butter and 3 tbs of water in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Add the anise seeds and cinnamon, pour this mixture over the bowl of flour and baking soda, and stir to combine.
Dissolve baking soda in a little warm water and than add to other ingredients already mixed together, not forgetting the soaked raisins and their liquid, then spoon into the tin and cook for 1 - 1 ½ hours.
When the cake has cooled, heat the apricot jam in a small pan and, using a pastry brush, paint most but not all of it over the top of the cake to glaze and add crystallized fruits and almonds. Brush more jam over the fruit and leave to dry, than wrap in a plastic wrap. Store the cake in an airtight container for 2-3 months.
And for a New Year's don't forget to throw away your old things trough a window as Italians do!