Ughetto degli Atellani

Ughetto degli Atellani

1400s

DJ Name: Ughettin’ This Bread

Just as eels played an important role in the first Thanksgiving celebrations in America, panettone plays a similar role in Italian Christmas traditions. Since we’re approaching the day that Santa will slide down the chimney, we’re getting into the Christmas spirit here at Historic Shuffle by slacking off on work emails, queuing up the holiday episodes of Great British Bake Off and listening to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and other holiday hits by Johnny Marks on repeat. 

And, in channeling our inner champion Giuseppe, this week we’re learning about Ughetto degli Atellani, the Milanese man who allegedly created the first gabagool – oops, we mean panettone. This sweet treat’s invention is shrouded in myth, but we’re gonna take a stab at it anyway since what are Christmas traditions if they’re not a bit of a tall tale? 

This goomba Ughetto couldn’t put on his apron and start mixing the dry ingredients until he queued up his favorite cooking playlist, which we’ve compiled for your listening pleasure right here. Buone feste! 

Ughetto degli Atellani was born in Milan, Italy sometime in the 1400s. Honestly, that’s all that is pretty much known about Ughetto’s early life because, once again, somebody didn’t keep a diary. So let’s talk about Italy for a bit. This was a boomin’ time to be alive in Bel Paese (which means “beautiful country” in Italian, because we’re cultured). It was the Renaissance, baby! There was a rebirth happening all over Europe. While Italians spent much of the Middle Ages reading about Dante’s Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise in The Divine Comedy, those of the Renaissance ~era~ preferred the enlightened commentary of Niccolo Machiavelli who said he was not interested in preserving the status quo, but wanted to overthrow it. That’s it. That’s the energy of the Renaissance. 

In addition to the lit literature, Renaissance Fairs, of course, featuring local goods made by friendly craftsmen and women were popping up all over the place. There were flower crowns for all, and Leonardo Da Vinci made exclusive visits to paint Mona-inspired portraits for all of the Renaissance ladies who were feeling influenced by her mysterious gaze.* (*maybe) Humans began to practice humanism, which was the belief that encouraged peeps to get curious and question everything, especially the wisdom and teachings of the medieval church. So while Leo DiCaprio Da Vinci studied the proportions of the body of the Vitruvian Man, Ughetto grabbed his measuring cups and worked on the perfect measurements required for a fluffy panettone. 

So, what is a panettone? According to modern Renaissance man Paul Hollywood, it is a “quite light, slightly chewy, very buttery bread.” The key is not to put too much fruit, otherwise the panettone won’t rise quickly enough, or the fruit could all get lodged in the bottom of the cake, making for quite the soggy bottom! But Ughetto didn’t have this knowledge of our favorite baker in the game; rather, he had his ingredients and a desire to create the best panettone around. Nobleman Ughetto was willing to take a whisk to express his love for Adalgisa, a not so noble woman who was the daughter of a poor baker named Toni (not of the Soprano family, but we will continue to invoke Sopranos slang). Unfortunately, Ughetto’s family was not so happy about this unfolding love story, and they forbade him to marry her.

But Adalgisa was no goomar to Ughetto. He was determined to get this lovely lady to fall for him, because she was the real deal. So when the moon hit his eye like a big pizza pie, he was struck with an idea from his amore: he would dress up as a baker and take a job at Adalgisa’s papa’s bakery. He toiled away the days kneading dough until he’d saved up enough dough to buy some sugar and butter and added it into the day’s bread supply. 

“Yum yum!” said the local Milanese folk, probably. “Next, please make apple scrapple!” And thus Great Harvest was born. Not really, but people were super into this new sugary bready treat. The bakery’s financial frown began to turn upside down. And as Christmas neared, Ughetto decided to take his experiment one step further. He purchased candied peel and raisins and kneaded that into the bread as well, careful to add it into the bread during the third turn, which we learned from watching numerous sourdough baking videos during the long days of the 2020 quarantine. 

And the rest is history – everyone fell in love with this new fruity, sweet bread and Adalgisa’s family business turned around. She was, in the words of Elvis, in the Ughettoooo no more. Ughetto’s family was likewise very pleased with this turn of events and decided Adalgisa was no longer a lowly gal, thereby blessing their marriage

The legend pretty much ends there, and we can only hope that Ughetto and Adalgisa lived happily ever after, sifting flour in their Easter egg-colored kitchen a la Great British Bake Off. Now, panettone is seen by Italians – and people all over the world – as a special treat to bring to someone during the holidays. Panettone can be enjoyed outside of the holidays, too, or eaten with coffee for breakfast because it’s never too early for a sweet li’l treat. The only rule is that it’s considered bad luck to chop off the domed top and eat it by yourself, so make sure you find yourself an Adalgisa or Ughetto under the mistletoe this holiday season with whom to share your panettone. 

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