You know, I almost didn't do this blog post today.
It's the day after Christmas – who wants to read about Christmas bread? Everyone's heaving a HUGE sigh: of relief that the day went well, of gratitude for loved ones from afar, of wistfulness that they've all gone home again... Christmas is all about love, and frenzy, and once-a-year foods, and joy, and preparations, and celebration, and did I say love?
There's all kinds of love out there during the holidays. Love for family and friends, ratcheted up with a dose of nostalgia. Love of the Christmas lights and candles in the windows; the Salvation Army guy with his bell; even the gaudy tinsel snowflakes strung through downtown.
And then there's love of food: the special holiday foods you grew up with, be they tangerines in the toe of the stocking, ribbon candy, a French-Canadian tourtière, or yes, it's possible, maybe even fruitcake.
My husband is Italian, and for him Christmas and food are inextricably entwined, as they are in many cultures. Christmas Eve means fish: anchovy-stuffed zeppole, and fresh lobster salad, and smelts, fried until crisp and brown then drizzled with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Christmas Day means a feast: spaghetti and meatballs, of course; maybe a lasagna on the side, depending on which in-laws drop by. Fresh, crusty bread, to dip in the sauce. And all throughout the day, two constants: pizzelle, crisp, thin, disk-like sugar cookies, often flavored with anise or rum or lemon; and panettone, Italy's fruit-filled signature Christmas bread.
There's ALWAYS panettone around an Italian house at Christmas.
For those who don't bake their own, they're easy to find, in their big, cube-like yellow or blue boxes: Bauducco brand, or Ferrara; maybe Bauli. Open the box, they're all pretty much the same: light-textured, golden bread, scented with citrus and vanilla, and harboring some of those typical fruitcake fruits: citron, candied peel, raisins.
Panettone aren't hard to find; but they can be hard to get rid of. Thankfully, they seem to stay fresh forever, even without benefit of preservatives; their natural leavening probably helps in that respect. Still, if only one person in the house is eating panettone – as is often the case, panettone being the Italian equivalent of fruitcake (and thus suffering its same shabby treatment by many) – it takes a LONG time to get through a typical 2- or 3-pound loaf.
Today is Boxing Day in Great Britain and Ireland (where it's also known as St. Stephen's Day); so I thought, why not do a blog post on the food traditions of that holiday?
Only I couldn't find anything specific; it was all along the lines of "serve a casual brunch," or "use up your Christmas leftovers." Leftovers. Panettone. Yes! In fact, several British Web sites offered panettone bread pudding recipes, suggested on one as a way to use up "Aunty Pam's panettone."
Bread pudding? I can do that. And thankfully, I can do it even better since reading Andy and Jackie King's bread pudding recipes. Andy and Jackie are founders of A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem, MA, a bakery offering carefully crafted, totally delicious breads and pastries. They'll be teaching at our Baking Education Center this spring; and they've just published a book, Baking By Hand, which fortuitously fell into my lap just as I was thinking about panettone bread pudding.
The Kings treat bread pudding a bit differently than most: their recipes call for soaking bread cubes in a lightly sweetened custard, then transferring them to a loaf pan, rather than a casserole dish. The loaf pan makes it possible to create two layers of bread, with a rich filling in between. Their Caramel-Pecan-Bourbon Bread Pudding, for instance, features caramel in the center; their White Chocolate-Cherry, chunks of white chocolate.
So I'm thinking panettone pudding with filling... what will complement (without overwhelming) citrus/fruit/vanilla?
Light dawns on Marblehead! Lemon curd.
Now I was inspired. I quickly found my recipe for Easy Microwave Lemon Curd (ready in under 10 minutes), and made a half batch. As it cooled and thickened, I soaked cubes of panettone in custard. Bread and custard were scooped into a loaf pan, followed by dollops of lemon curd; more bread and custard, then coarse sparkling sugar on top.
Forty-five minutes in the oven, 30 minutes to set and cool, and delizioso! Panettone Bread Pudding with Lemon Filling was born.
Is there half a panettone staring you in the face? Celebrate Boxing Day by taking it out of its blue box and turning it into something extra-special.
Let's start off with some leftover panettone, diced in generous 1" cubes. Don't fuss over making them all the same size; it's not at all necessary.
Slice off any particularly dark areas of the crust, as they tend to be leathery. You'll need 9 to 10 cups of bread cubes, which is about 12 ounces finished weight; I started with slightly less than half a 2-pound loaf.
Whisk together the following:
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups half & half (fat-free is fine), light cream, whole milk, or a combination of milk and cream
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, to taste; optional
Fiori di Sicilia — "Flowers of Sicily" — is Italy's classic flavoring for panettone, and is a nice extra touch in this pudding.
Put the cubed bread in a bowl, and pour the egg mixture over it. Stir to combine. Set the mixture aside for 30 to 60 minutes, so the bread can absorb much of the liquid. There might still be a bit of milk/cream in the bowl, especially if you've waited just 30 minutes; that's OK.
While the bread is soaking, preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan.
Stir the bread again, then spoon half of it into the prepared pan. Dollop a generous 1/2 cup lemon curd over the bread/custard. Spread it out if it's not too sticky; though leaving it in clumps is fine, too, as it'll melt a bit and redistribute itself as the pudding bakes. Top with the remaining bread/custard, patting it down gently.
Sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar, if desired; this creates a crunchy/sweet topping that plays well with the pudding's smooth interior.
Bake the pudding for 40 to 50 minutes, until it's golden brown.
Remove it from the oven, and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, in order to set, before slicing and serving.
Sift confectioners' sugar over the top of each slice; serve with a bit of whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.
Unlike my husband, I'm not a huge fan of panettone. But this treatment? Totally different story. Warm and creamy, oozing tart lemon curd, sweet crunchy edges from the sparkling sugar – I'm SO there. I think this is about to become my very first Boxing Day tradition!
Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Panettone Bread Pudding.
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