The word probably derives from the word “panetto,” a small loaf cake, with the augmentative suffix “-one” to refer to its large size. It can be traced back to a cured bread made with yeast, honey, dried fruit and pumpkin in 200 AD. In 600 AD it looked like a crude form of focaccia made with corn flour and grapes. In 800 AD panettone referred to cornbread made with eggs, sugar and raisins. (The latter ingredient was believed to bring wealth.)
According to one legend, at the end of 400 AD Ughetto, son of the condottiere Giacometto degli Atellani, fell in love with a beautiful young woman named Adalgisa. To be near his beloved, he became a baker, like her father Toni, and created a rich bread made with butter, eggs, sugar, citron and candied oranges. The sweet fruit of his love was an unprecedented hit, and people from every neighborhood came to taste “Pan del Ton.” According to another legend, on Christmas Eve, at the court of Duke Ludovico, a cook was preparing a special sweet. Unfortunately, the cupola-shaped raisin bread got burned in the oven, and the cook became apoplectic. As he cursed and howled, a servant named Toni spoke up, advising the cook to serve the sweet all the same and say the crust was special. When guests saw the unusual bread, they applauded raucously. And when they took their first bite, a chorus of praise erupted, and “Pan del Toni” was born.