Hi guys and welcome to 2017, as they say in Italy – Buon Anno! I don’t know about you but I feel slightly melancholy which must be connected to the fact that the festivities are tapering off. Confession time. I wish could turn back the clock and start December all over again. So intent am I on holding onto any trace of Christmas magic still left in the air that I’ve been strolling around the city in the bitter cold, to get the last glimpse of the Christmas trees, lights and ornaments decked out on Genova’s streets. By this time next week everything will be taken down, nudging us back to the reality that all good things must come to an end. Sigh.
However, that has not happened yet, like they say – it’s not over till the Fat Lady Sings, and since this is KitchenOpera, I say it’s not over until this lady shares at least one Panettone inspired recipe with you. Panettone is a traditional Italian Christmas cake that makes its graceful appearance in Italy during the festive season. I say graceful, because even if you’ve never had one before, the stunning way in which this “luxury bread” is wrapped and presented, will compel you to buy one. Panettone can be found carefully protected in pretty boxes or wrapped in gorgeous paper or my favourite – decorative tins which you can keep for a lifetime. Never judge a book by its cover, except for when it comes to Panettone, a great one almost always reveals itself from the packaging.
Panettone is legendary because it’s been around since the 15th century and its anticipated appearance every holiday season never gets old. In fact Christmas tables across continents have made space for the classic Italian cake with its ever-growing popularity and demand. It’s a soft, delicate, dome-shaped cake, that’s more of a brioche (pane in Italian means bread) and when created to strict, traditional standards it should have a yellow, buttery rich dough that’s bouncy to the touch and filled properly with plump sultanas and candied citrus peel. Other varieties include hazelnuts, almonds, liqueur, chocolate or berries, and while these are just a few of the most popular variations that exist, there’s no saying what other varieties are out there, that I haven’t had the pleasure to sample. The aroma is memorable, known to many as “the smell of Italian Christmas”.
Panettone is traditionally given as gifts to friends and family as a token of prosperity for the coming year hence the special care taken to present it so beautifully. Typically it’s served on the two most special days of the holidays as the quintessential dessert of the season, often accompanied with a good bottle of dessert wine. In not so typical fashion though, in our home Panettone is eaten for breakfast, mainly because in Italy the day starts with something sweet like a brioche or croissant (a factor that I still have to get used to) but more to the point is that a bread, luxury as it may be, to my mind and maw, still does not embody a dessert. There I said it! I need something more, so while slices of Panettone are eaten for breakfast, Panettone Bread Pudding is eaten for dessert so everybody’s happy.
In light of its glory, you’re probably wondering why I waited till after the season to do this post. Ironically a curious reader brought it up, (rightfully so) but not to say that I wasn’t planning on it. My recipe of Panettone Bread Pudding couldn’t come at a better moment because I’m sure there’s plenty of Panettone leftovers that accumulated over December. Or now that the sales are in full swing, who’s not tempted to buy yet another one out of the sheer thrill of getting a bargain. Remember the days when our Mum’s made Old fashioned Bread & Butter Pudding from slices of buttered bread, topped with apricot jam and custard? Yes we will always have affection for old favourites but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for an upgrade. I’ve omitted the use of jam and butter, because the bread is sufficiently rich, but my variation with rum and nuts with a side of almond cream, accomplishes a pick-me-up just the way it should.
- 300g panettone
- 500ml milk
- 3 eggs
- 50g sugar
- 2 tbs rum (optional)
- 1 tbs cornflour
- tsp vanilla extract
- 100g chopped mixed nuts
- confectioners sugar for dusting
For the Cream
- 250ml fresh cream
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1 tbs confectioners sugar
- Grease a medium-sized baking dish and preheat oven to 160°C gas fan / 180°C electric fan / 200°C conventional.
- Cut the panettone from top to bottom into a wedge and slice the wedge into mini wedges.
- Place the wedges into the greased dish without compressing them.
- In a jug, beat eggs, cornflour and sugar.
- Add vanilla extract, rum and milk and mix well.
- Pour the milk mixture evenly over the wedges.
- Scatter over the chopped nuts.
- Bake for 50 mins.
- In a mixing bowl beat cold cream till ribbon stage.
- Sift in sugar and add almond extract and continue beating to stiff peak stage.
- When the pudding has been baked for the full-time, place under a hot broiler for three minutes to toast the crusts.
- Remove from oven and dust with confectioners sugar.
- Leave to rest for at least fifteen minutes.
- Dish each serving with a dollop of almond cream.
Maestros Need to Know *Adding cornflour to the egg-milk mixture is not typical. The egg-milk mixture is the "custard" that will form when heated due to the eggs in the mixture coagulating, however I choose to add a tablespoon of cornflour to ensure a thicker custard consistency as cornstarch is a thickening agent generally used in custards. By doing this we can attain custardy rich pudding that's perfect eaten as is or with a side of whipped cream. While many people will make Bread Pudding and serve it with custard I think that it's not necessary when the bread itself is baked in custard.