PANDORO: HISTORY OF A CHRISTMAS CAKE AND ITS INVENTOR, DOMENICO MELEGATTI
Domenico Melegatti was a pastry cook who invented Pandoro in the late 1800s, one of the Christmas cakes par excellence. Here are the story and the legends that tell its genesis
In Corso Porta Borsari, number 21, there is Palazzo Melegatti-Turco-Ronca. Here, on the cornice, there is an atypical sculpture. A pandoro. An atypical pandoro, made of plaster. Next to it, in a tiny alley, 3 apples stand with 3 cats, as in the name and symbol of the most famous pastry cook from Verona (let’s hope Ruggero Bauli doesn’t mind, his company was luckier anyway).
In that building, with windowless rooms. Only the sign on one side remains of the Melegatti pastry shop. Here, however, Domenico Melegatti has started the creation of one of the most beloved Christmas sweets, the Pandoro precisely, mixing the traditions of the Austrian and Venetian courts.
Domenico Melegatti: the invention of pandoro
Born in 1844, Domenico Melegatti is one of the 3 sons of Pietro and is the one that follows more in his footsteps. Unlike his father, however, he has a strong propensity for innovation. In the ’60s wins a prize at the agricultural exhibition in Verona but will have to wait for the death of his father, in 1873, to take the reins of the family activity.
His creativity really flourishes only in these years. It was during this period that he decided to brush up on the ancient tradition of ‘levà’ and make it a new dessert. A dessert that could be a bargain for those who produced it, consumable all year round and impossible to reproduce at home.
The levà was a Christmas bread, that is sweet and with pine nuts, almonds, and candied fruit. The women used to prepare it as a group in the courts, and its preparation took the whole night of Christmas Eve.
Pandoro: an unrepeatable dessert
Melegatti will take that bread, remove almost all the ingredients (some of which remain in the panettone) and will replace them with butter, sugar, and eggs. Also, it will make extensive use of yeast, obtaining a sweet bread that still requires up to 36 hours of preparation, 10 of leavening and 7 kneading cycles. To cook it, Melegatti invented a special oven, capable of maintaining a uniform heat (hence the name “continuous heat”) and avoiding the creation of the typical panettone crust. Try, dear housewives, to do it at home …
Pandoro: not legends, rumors instead
This is, in short, the story of pandoro, which, unlike panettone, does not admit legends or doubts about fatherhood. Oh well, rumors have inevitably arisen over the years. The first deals with the name “pandoro,” which seems to have been given to it by a boy, who when he saw his color, said: “l’è proprio un pan de oro”(It’s a real golden bread). The other rumor is that pandoro derives from ‘nadalin’ or from the Vienna bread. The first is kind of Christmas bread in use since the ‘200 on the tables of the Venetian Doge, less buttery and lower than pandoro. The nadalin was offered in 1232 to the Della Scala, who became the lords of Verona in those years. In the city, it is still being prepared, and the process has never been industrialized, which has allowed the dessert to become De.Co. (Municipal Name), that is guaranteed and national product. The Vienna bread, on the other hand, is a dessert of the Austrian tradition. The last anecdote is about the Roman origins of Pandoro: minor writing of the first century AD mentions a cook named Vergilius Stephanus Senex who apparently prepared a “panis” with superfine flour, butter, and oil (the same ingredients as Pandoro).
Pandoro, an unrepeatable dessert vol.2
Yet, the real year of birth of Pandoro is unknown, while we know precisely when Melegatti gets its patent. We can see him, Mimmo Melegatti, receiving the news from the Ministry of his license being accepted. With a toothy smile on his face, thinking of all those who, over the years, had tried to recreate his pandoro. Once he also proposed a competition, with a prize of 1000 lire for those who had entirely found out the original recipe. Nobody succeeded, of course.
The modernity and the contemporaneity of Domenico Melegatti
The Melegatti of the late ‘800 is a centaur, half modern man, half contemporary man. His creativity is as modern as his entrepreneurial spirit. His vision also applies to marketing and delivery methods. It is the first pastry cook to mail throughout the area. To maintain the freshness of his pandoro, so recognizable by its star shape, created by the painter Angelo Dall’Oca Bianca, Melegatti has created a special packaging. His methods of communication, on the other hand, are contemporary: he participates in all the events of the sector, creates advertisements in newspapers, produces posters and renews the lights of his pastry shop that he transforms into a real company-laboratory.
He fails, however, in the attempt to make the pandoro a dessert for the whole year. At the time there were few people able to spend considerable money for a cake that, in the richer versions, was able to contain the same amount of dough and butter.
The pandoro, therefore, with Domenico still alive becomes a typical Christmas dessert. Today we can find it on the Italian tables only during the Christmas period and is particularly loved by children. Hands up, in fact, who as a child was a fan of raisins and candied fruit, typical of panettone.
Pandoro and the company after Melegatti
On the death of Domenico Melegatti, who arrived in 1914, the pastry went to the only possible heir, the niece Irma Barbieri, married Turco. The company grew with post-World War II well-being, up to 1,200 employees. In recent years, however, Melegatti has been hit by the crisis and by some wrong investments (like that of wanting to make packaged croissants). In mid-2018, after being bankrupt, the company has changed ownership, and Christmas 2018 will be the moment of the relaunching. Today, the company’s employees are forty, and among them, there are the custodians of the original recipe.
Yes, because sor Domenico, in the end, and despite the failures of his company, has won. The original recipe of his creation, the pandoro, is still unknown. Probably, Sor Domenico Melegatti will keep those 1000 lire in his pockets for a while …
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