What is it about Panettone?

I always know the Christmas season is upon me when I see box upon box of panettone in the supermarket. To give you a little bit of history on this delightful sweet bread loaf, panettone is traditionally prepared and enjoyed during the Christmas and New Year periods in a number of countries, but most notably Italy and is especially a symbol of Milan. I remember the large, festively decorated box would always be passed as a gift to my parents from various relatives during Christmas, but what does one do with it?

This very light sweet bread loaf known for its tall cylindrical shape is traditionally packed with dried or candied fruits like sultanas, raisins and apricots (if you’re eating the version that doesn’t have fruit then you’re not eating panettone, but his cousin – the pandoro), so you can enjoy it plain or toasted. But if that sounds boring and not at all bearing the ‘festive spirit’ that it is to be consumed in, then I’ve got three recipes that might tickle your tastebuds.

Panettone French toast with mixed berries

I made this one for Christmas breakfast last year. It’s decadent and you’re likely to fall into a sugar coma if too much is eaten. But with a few simple ingredients from the pantry, you can use your panettone for a delicious sweet treat to rival the best of pancakes!

Take three eggs, one third cup (roughly 80ml) of thin cream, one third cup of milk, two tablespoons of caster sugar, half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, two thick rounds of panettone (tip: cut horizontally from the base) quartered, 250g mixed berries (you can use frsh, but frozen is also good), two tablespoons of icing sugar, 40g of unsalted butter and thick cream of yoghurt (or ice cream) to serve.

Beat the eggs, thin cream, milk, sugar and vanilla. Add the panettone and turn to coat ensuring the bread is soaked through. Place half the berries in a blender with the icing sugar and a tablespoon of water and blend until smooth. Combine it with the remaining berries and set aside. Heat half the butter over medium heat and place the panettone slices in the pan cooking on each side for one to two minutes or until golden brown. To serve, dust the panettone with icing sugar, top with the berry mix and add either the cream, yoghurt or ice cream – or all three.

If mixed berries isn’t your cup of tea, how about Panettone bread and butter pudding?

My Mum does the BEST bread and butter pudding, and even though the recipe is pretty straight forward, I have never come across a dish that tastes the same as hers. But this one looked good, so I gave it a bash for a post-Christmas get-together. I’ll admit, it was a little ‘eggy’ and the cooking was a bit uneven, but I’m hoping someone will ignore my misfortune, have a crack at the recipe and use it as the reason for their audition on the next season of MasterChef.

Cut about 700g of panettone into 1cm thick slices, get 40g of unsalted butter and soften it, 100ml of marsala, 600ml of milk, 600ml of thickened cream, one teaspoon of cinnamon, one lemon with the rind grated, four eggs, 125g of caster sugar and icing sugar for the presentation at the end.

Preheat the over to about 180 degrees C and have and oven-proof dish lightly greased. Butter each slice of panettone and lay the slices to fill the dish – it’s okay if they are slightly overlapping. Pour the marsala over the panettone. Place the milk, cream, cinnamon and lemon rind in a saucepan over a medium heat and get it to simmer, then remove from the heat. Whisk the eggs and sugar. Pour the hot milk over the egg mixture and continue to whisk until combined. Pour over the panettone pushing the slices down until covered. Place the dish in a large baking tray and pour boiling water into the tray until half way up the sides of the dish. Bake for 35 minutes or until the bread is golden and the milky mixture has set. As always, dust the pudding with icing sugar and serve.

HINT: Best eaten hot, but is a-okay served cold, which means it can keep for a little while covered in the fridge.

Concerned about cavities with all the sweetness? Give the Italian salad with panettone croutons a go.

You want one cup of diced panettone, 100ml of extra virgin olive oil, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar, enough salad leaves (try mesculun) to feed four, one baby fennel bulk thinly sliced with the fronds set aside, one cup of seedless white grapes and one cup of seedless red grapes, one cup of cherry bocconcini torn apart with gusto.

Toss the panettone and one tablespoon of olive oil on a baking tray in an oven preheated to 180 degrees C and toast for about 10 minutes. Set them aside to cool and crisp. Whisk the vinegar and left over oil, and season to taste. This looks pretty special served on a platter, as the salad leaves are scattered and the panettone croutons are added along with the fennel, grapes and bocconcini. Drizzle the dressing and toss. You can garnish with the fennel fronds – I guess that makes them ‘useful’. Smile as your guests effuse ‘Wow’ over your culinary skills.

Buon appetito! Enjoy panettone this festive season, and if you have a recipe, I’d love to try it.

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