Easter Bread Legends


Like so many things in Italy, bread and cakes come by many names, especially if it is a holiday and then, it depends on what kind of holiday or occasion it might be. Of course the names and kinds of bread and cakes come  with their own legends, traditions, cautions, and  ingredients born from science, literature, ancient manuscripts or the simple competitiveness of the Italian people.

Pandora (left) Panettone (right) The Panettone, instead, is a typical Milanese cake, and it became over the years a true symbol of Christmas in Italy. It is a sweet soft, stuffed with raisins and candied fruit, better to be served with dried-fruits and walnuts at the end of a hearty Christmas meal
or for breakfast the next day. It is similar to the Pandoro, which lacks fruit additions.
Italy’s: food culture is strongly rooted in the Italian DNA, and the rivalry between the two typical Christmas cakes can escalate quickly among the guests of any Italian dinner party. Before you take side: did you know that the original recipe of panettone is 500 years old?
Italy has many Christmas sweets and threats, but a slice of panettone and a flute of prosecco is the classic way for Italians to welcome the festive season. Panettone is a traditional cake-like bread stuffed with dried raisins, candied orange and lemon peel. The origins of Panettone are in Milan, in the northern Italy. It has a noble and antique birth, and several legends to explain it.
One of the most popular ones tells about Ughetto degli Atellani, a nobleman who lived in 1400’s in Milan. He was in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni who worked in the kitchen of the powerful Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. To win her love, he disguised himself as a baker.





Ludovico Sforza
Image credit: Wikimedia CC

To impress Adalgisa, he invented a special bread, adding new ingredients: butter, eggs, dried raisins and candied peel. Pan del Ton (Toni’s bread) was a huge success in many ways: Ughetto gets the girl, Duke approves the marriage and Toni’s invention is welcomed with an enthusiastic response. A new dessert is born, called forever Pan del Ton, or: panettone. The actual translation is ‘big bread,’ from ‘panetto’ meaning dough and the suffix ‘one’ meaning lar

In Italy, the rules for making the delicacy are as strict as ever: in order to be labeled as such, a native panettone must be composed of no less than 20 percent candied fruit, 16 percent butter, and eggs that are at least four percent yolk. Attempts by the Italian agriculture ministry to have these standards applied abroad have not panned out, and the reality is that panettone is a dessert with many homes.
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The internet offers plenty of recipes, ranging from the traditional to celebrity variations, so making it at home isn’t beyond the reach of most competent home-bakers. Italians consider it bad luck to remove the domed top and to consume it on your own.


Not to be confused with the Greek mythological woman, Pandoro, who opened the box to unleash all human ills, or all human blessings except hope, whichever version you select.

Similar to panettonepandoro is made from a rich, eggy dough, not unlike a French brioche, explaining its name of “golden bread.” The cake is baked in an eight-pointed star-shaped pan that gives it its signature form. It’s modeled after the mountains near Verona, where the cake was first made in 1894. Domenico Melegatti was granted a patent to produce pandoro industrially, made popular by rich Venetians.   Italian bakers sell an astonishing 117 million cakes a year!

COLOMBA (Dove cake)

A debate has gone on for centuries as to the beginnings of Colomba di Pasqua, particularly between the two stories of the Milanese and Pavia (Lombardy).  The Milanese story is more commonly accepted which follows:  During the Battle of the Legano, two doves were witnessed flying onto the altar of a chariot that carried the standards of the Lombard League, who had just won defeated Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The doves were believed to symbolize the Holy Ghost, and so the Colomba (cake shaped like a dove) commemorates that event and is viewed as a symbol of victory. Others view it as a symbol or peace and springtime.  It was first made in Lombardy in the early 1900s by the Motta Italian baking

Of course, the legends and traditions of the even more ancient Sicilian version of this cake is known as Palummeddi and Pastifuorti, also recognized by Italy’s Ministry as a Tradiitional Italian Product. Whatever version or legend selected, know that this cake, especially the Limoncello added recipe version is a mouthwatering addition to any household, holiday or not.


An Umbrian cheese bread made in outdoor stone bread ovens, or a local “forno” (oven)

but not before the yeast, flour and water “Biga” was blessed by the local priest before making the dough. Also known as Torta di Formaggio (Cheese bread), traditionally made with aged and young Pecorino cheeses.


I would be remiss not to include the bread of my father’s home town, Lucca. It is their daily signature bakery offering, though my family only favored us with a loaf at Christmas or Easter.

The word buccellatum was soldiers’ bread and later evolved into the meaning of sweet bread. In 1485 a document related to the process of a woman who had killed her husband with a poisoned buccellato.

This bread was important to the history of Lucca because in 1578, a levy was imposed on its sale and the money was used to rebuild the embankments of the river Serchio.

The most famous buccellato is the one you can get in the Taddeucci pastry shop, a refined shop born in 1881. It looks like an old grocery shop, with huge shop windows crammed of desserts, cakes and sweet breads. You can easily find the shop right in the historical centre of Lucca, in Piazza San Michele, close to the homonymous church.

In the past, buccellato was a cake that was traditionally made, or bought, for the confirmation of your children. Today it is rightfully included in the everyday life of the city of Lucca.

It is made just from flour, water, sugar, raisins, aniseed and yeast. The next day, when it is no longer fresh, the heirs of Jacopo Taddeucci suggest toasting it quickly and having it with butter, coffee and milk for breakfast, or using it as a base for other sweet recipes, from a traditional strawberry soup to semifreddo.

When you are there do not forget to try the torta di verdure, a vegetable pie made with Swiss chard, raisins and pine nuts. It is sweet and spiced, unusual, a light and pleasant looking dessert and very tasty! It is also very easy to make, with regular pie crust.



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