As in Milan they make Panettone and in Sicily they make cassata, in Rome they make pangiallo, or pan giallo (literally “yellow bread”). It is a traditional dessert made with honey, raisins, nuts and various spices (including saffron) at Christmas time.
Pangiallo has been a traditional Christmas sweet in Rome since ancient Roman times, around the 1st century BC.
At that time, Augustus ruled the known world and the Eternal City was called “Caput Mundi” (the centre of the world). The state religion was paganism and people worshipped various divinities, it was a mixture of cults that came from the primitive peoples of central Italy, Ancient Greece and Egypt.
The Romans used to celebrate the beginning and the end of the seasons with special propitiatory rites that honoured the divinities. The gods who represented the elements of nature were Ceres, Helios (the god of the Sun in Greek mythology), Selene and, of course, Jupiter (Zeus in Greek mythology).
The custom of distributing this traditional home-made cake took place on the day of the winter solstice, that is the shortest day of the year, with the fewest hours of daylight and the longest night. Pangiallo, a very simple cake to make, had a peculiarity, its golden yellow crust to herald the return of the sun.
Pangiallo was prepared, from the 21st December onwards, to wish for the return of spring and warm weather after the cold season.
Since the Romans were superstitious and attached to their traditions, pangiallo became a symbol of hope and one of the most appreciated gifts at Christmas time.
When Rome converted to Christianity, people preserved their traditions, such as the original recipe of pangiallo. Nowadays, this cake is still prepared and it is one of the most delicious and precious delicacies in the history of Rome.
Until the 19th century, before the Great War, pangiallo was considered the typical dessert of Lazio. It was mainly prepared at home by housewives and it was eaten on Christmas Day instead of the industrially produced panettone and pandoro sold in supermarkets today.
The Pangiall’oro of the old bakery “Angelo Colapicchioni”
Pangiallo is one of the most ancient Roman traditions, however, as mentioned above, it has been somewhat forgotten today.
But there is one exception and that is the old bakery “Angelo Colapicchioni”, located in the heart of the Eternal City.
It is one of the few bakeries, if not the only one, that still produces pangiallo today. Moreover, it got the patent for the pangiall’oro recipe, a variation of the traditional recipe that has won many awards.
Pangiall’oro is prepared with pistachios from Sicily, hazelnuts from Rome, pine nuts, almonds and natural honey. This delicious recipe has no added sugar, the cake is a real explosion of flavours for the taste buds and it is also healthy.