Ahh there’s nothing we like better than fine gourmet food with a great story behind it!
Pantondo is the result of a collaboration between a group of medieval historians from Florence University and the Belli family, expert artisan confectioners from Prato, Tuscany. The idea was to create a product which faithfully reproduced a recipe from the 12th century.
The historians had come across various manuscripts dating back to that period which described a Special Bread “peppered” or “spiced”. Similar bread was also cited in the private diaries of illustrious Tuscans such as Lorenzo De’ Medici, Michelangelo Buonarotti (Michelangelo) and Giorgio Vasari.
How did it Originate?
Spice trading was big business in 12th century Italy as merchants brought back many unusual and wonderful ingredients from the Orient. Most of these found their way into the great Benedictine Abbeys of Central Italy, where Italy’s finest chefs plied their trade surrounded by an abundance of some of the world’s best raw materials. It is in these abbeys where Pantondo most probably originated.
As was the norm at that time, Italian gastronomy was imbued with symbolic references and the individual ingredients of the Special Bread were no exception; e.g. honey, the food of the Gods par excellence is combined with the white almond, a symbol of purity.
Its popularity grew with pilgrims and travellers crossing the Appenines from Florence to Bologna and the North. It was long-lasting, tasty and nutritious and could also be made pocket-size!
Initially, the experiment to recreate the bread encountered a number of difficulties. As you might imagine, the recipe wasn’t written as today, with a nice list of ingredients, correct proportions and step by step instructions! The historians found references to a “sweetmeat” which seemed to form the core ingredients of the bread and had to examine numerous documents to trace them.
A long series of trials were then held at the Belli family bakery to estimate the proportions and to determine the best leaven (crucial to the success of this type of product). The Belli family’s experience of using a “live” mother leaven was a critical factor in this experiment.
After testing different quantities and combinations they finally came up with what everyone believes to be the most faithful recreation, a stunning bread-cake featuring a mix of spices, honey and white almonds. Its delightful wrapping is also based on the traditions of the time.