Panettone Bread Pudding

At the risk of sounding like a bit of a killjoy here -- I've never been a huge fan of New Year's Eve. This could be due to the fact that I've never been much of a partier (not even in college!) and at the ripe old age of 27, if given the choice between a night out in the freezing cold on NYE or takeout and a Twilight Zone marathon, I'll always choose the latter. On second thought, it might be because New Year's feels like a bit of a letdown after the merriment leading up to December 25th -- Christmas my #1 favorite holiday, is a tough act to follow, after all. Or it could perhaps be the whole end-of-the-year thing that I always find a little melancholy, for whatever reason -- and the start of a new year, which, while exciting, is also a bit daunting. Will it be a better year than the last? Will you stick to your resolutions and make a few changes? Will you look for a new job, exercise more, get organized, spend more time with your family, eat better, etc etc?!

Bet you didn't know New Year's could be so thought provoking, did you?!

But I digress! While I may have mixed feelings about the end of the year, I have absolutely clear feelings on this panettone bread pudding -- it's delicious and splendid and I love it -- and so even if I'm not so enthusiastic about New Year's, I am about this bread pudding. 
Panettone, in case you're not familiar, is an Italian Christmas sweet originally from Milan but enjoyed all over Italy before Christmas and on Christmas day. It is somewhere between a cake and a sweet bread, filled with raisins, lemon zest, and citron, tall and proud and cupola-shaped, finicky and complicated to make, requiring several days of proofing and rising and coddling. I usually bring my panettone home from Rome -- no easy feat, cramming a few pounds of panettone in to a suitcase packed with sweaters and gifts -- realizing only this year that it is now available in supermarkets and other food stores here in Rhode Island. Panettone has apparently gotten itself a passport and is now traveling all the way from Rome to the U.S's very smallest state. 

If you're like me you probably have some leftover panettone from Christmas laying around, and if you'd like to turn it into something even more magnificent than it already is -- oh yes, that is possible -- then I highly recommend you make this bread pudding, a dessert just decadent and elegant yet still cozy enough for any New Year's Eve dinner in you might be planning. This pudding makes quite an entrance out of the oven, puffed and golden and glorious, smooth and custardy as any good bread pudding should be -- its silky texture interrupted only but a welcome juicy raisin or two -- downright perfect with a dusting of powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream. My lactose intolerant sister-in-law allowed herself the tiny requisite tasting bite before deciding this was a dairy-heavy dessert good enough to make an exception for this one, popping a few Lactaid pills and risking any potential stomachache for a square of it (such sacrifice!) The majority of the pudding, meant to serve 12-14, disappeared quickly. Consider this dessert a comforting ending to a tough year (as I'm writing this, I've just learned that Carrie Fisher has also passed away, too -- seriously, 2016?!) and here's hoping that 2017 will be a little sweeter. 

Notes: The bread pudding can sit for up to two hours (refrigerated) after you add the custard to the bread pudding cubes. I was baking for a crowd that prefers desserts on the not-so-sweet-side, plus I figured that the panettone is already quite sweet on its own, so I didn't use too too much sugar here -- this pudding is just barely sweet. If you want a sweeter pudding, feel free to up the quantity. I made this to serve a crowd (thus I used the whole loaf of panettone that had gone uneaten) so know that you can easily halve this recipe to serve 6-8 people. You'll note below that I reserved a bit of the custard; that's because I was experimenting with quantities for this recipe and found in the end that the custard I had whipped up was slightly too much. Next time I make this I'll edit the recipe with more precise quantities, but for now, you like me might find you have to reserve some custard depending on how big the eggs are you're using/how much custard your panettone is able to absorb. This panettone was delicious served slightly warm a few hours after coming out of the oven, but I also found it was fantastic the day after eaten cold out of the fridge (yummm). Finally,  I suppose this dish lands more squarely in the "dessert" category, but you could probably serve it at brunch as a decadent riff on French toast, if you wanted. (Phew, that was a lot of notes!)


Looking for other recipes using leftover bread as their main ingredient? Of course you are! Check out this recipe for Canederli, this recipe for Individual Baked French Toasts, this Pumpkin French Toast, or this recipe for Apricot, Apple, and Sausage Stuffing. Want some more ideas for fancy desserts fit for New Year's Eve? How about this Chocolate Fudge Souffle Cake, this German Chocolate Cake, this Chocolate Truffle Tart, this Vanilla Layer Cake with Nutella, Mascarpone, and Raspberries, this Pear and Chocolate Custard Tart, or these Dulce de Leche Brownies?

PANETTONE BREAD PUDDING

Ingredients:
1 panettone (1000 grams or 2 pounds) cut in to cubes (I used one without citron, but feel free to use whatever you like!)
10 eggs
1 3/4 cups (435 grams) whipping cream
3 cups (about 750 grams) whole milk + 2 tablespoons
1 1/2 cups (310 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Freshly whipped cream and powdered sugar, for serving

Directions: 

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until beaten well, then whisk in the cream, milk, vanilla, and sugar to blend. Make sure it is in a large enough bowl to whisk everything together thoroughly (as you can see I had to change bowls half way through!)
Cut the panettone into cubes and scatter in a buttered 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
Pour the custard over the panettone, pressing them down gently to make sure they are fully submerged in the custard mixture. I reserved a ladle or two of the custard mixture (see notes above). Wait until the panettone is fully submerged in the custard mixture but not swimming in it. Let the whole thing sit for about 30 minutes and up to 2.5 hours (if more than 30 minutes refrigerate the mixture, covered) still pressing the panettone down occasionally to cover it with the custard. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake the bread pudding for about 45-60 minutes or until it puffs up a little and is set in the center. Cool slightly. Spoon the bread pudding into bowls, serve with freshly whipped cream or powdered sugar, if desired.








Rhode Island

 I thought long and hard about what my last post before Christmas would be, dancing back and forth between sharing a recipe fit for breakfast Christmas morning or a quick last minute Christmas appetizer recipe, then realizing that in the last few days before the 25th, very few people are in the market for a new recipe (am I right?!) By the time this is posted, most everyone will be scrambling to finish any last minute Christmas shopping, cramming to meet pre-break deadlines at work, or traveling to spend the holidays with family out of town. In light of all this, I've decided to instead share what I've been up to the past few days since I've been back at home in in little East Greenwich, RI. Enjoy!

CHRISTMAS BAKING, DECORATING, ETC
So, Rhode Island! In case you didn't know, Rhode Island is a state -- not an island, not Long Island, just the smallest state in the U.S -- and is where my brother and sister and I were born and raised. I tend to do a lot of relaxing when I'm home -- the main activities include sleeping late, catching up on TV, cooking and baking, and spending time with my family. If I'm home for the holidays we tend to fit in a lot of Christmas traditions leading up to the big day (cookie decorating! tree decorating! viewing of Home Alone! listening of Elvis Christmas Album! etc) We take Christmas decorations in particular quite seriously, and decorate both inside the house and out (see photos below!) The crowning jewel in all holiday decorations is Snow Village, a little ceramic Christmas village my mom started collecting about 20 years ago. As you can see our collection has grown over the years expanding from one little table to about three big tables. 
The kitchen at my parents' place is far nicer than the kitchen in my apartment in Rome -- lots of counter space, plus a double oven and a dish washer -- so its always a pleasure to bake and cook while home. This year, as per tradition, I baked up some Shortbread Cookies -- recipe here -- to be decorated by my brother, sister-in-law, sister, cousin, and me. On hand was also some homemade hot cocoa mix -- recipe here! -- to wash down all the cookies. In other food related news, I've also been enjoying reading American Cake by Anne Byrn (an early Christmas gift from my sister) which provides an extensive history of cakes from the 1770s-present, plus corresponding recipes. I only wish it were smaller so I could bring it with me on my commute every morning in Rome.

LA SALETTE + DAD'S BIRTHDAY
My dad's birthday usually coincides with the day I return, which I think is the nicest gift he could receive (haha!) After having a birthday lunch at my Nonna Ada's house (read more about her here) who still manages to whip up incredible multicourse meals at the age of 88, we headed to La Salette, in Attleboro, Massachusetts. La Salette is the national shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, in France -- still not sure why their is a shrine in Massachusetts, will have to google that -- and every year they set up an extraordinary light festival, open for Christmas from late November to early January. If you need a break from the cold, there is also La Salette's International Creche Museum -- very cool! -- and stands selling hot cocoa, cider, and fried dough, and s'mores (cozy!!)

SNOOPY (!!!)
No time at home is complete without a little time spent with this guy, Snoopy, our adopted senior beagle, rescued from the shelter 5 years ago. Snoopy (who is also referred to as Kokosnuss, The Toasted Marshmallow, or simply "Snoo") is coddled and spoiled by the whole family (his bed just might be nicer than mine). If you're not a dog person or animal fan, just indulge me: 
And with that I'd like to wish everyone a very happy holiday filled with lots of good food! I'll be back next week with a few New Year's recipes -- Merry Christmas to all/Buon Natale a tutti!!!





Canederli

Try as I might, I've found that its unfortunately impossible to bring any vacation I take home with me. The sunshine and beaches of Sardinia, for example, were not able to be packed up in my suitcase and flown to Rome with me on my Ryanair flight; I wasn't able to stuff the vivacity and energy of New Orleans, the order and convenience of Denmark, or the quaintness and charm of Siena in to my carry on, nor was I able to stow away Madrid's Palacio Real, The Tower of London, or the Diego Rivera murals I saw in Mexico City. That being said, perhaps its for the best that I can't bring my favorite elements of wherever I've visited back to Rome; after all, if you could bring a vacation home with you, the experience would no longer be special and unique and worth traveling for, right?

One little loophole here, though -- the food. Now that I can bring home.

Remember that trip to Bolzano a couple of weeks ago? While I couldn't transport the Christmas-y spirit of the city or the mountains to Rome -- darn! -- I decided that I could most certainly try and cook some of the marvelous dishes I tried there, thus bringing a little bit of my magical northern vacation here to the south of Italy. Enter these canederli (also known as kn√∂del) or rather dumplings made from stale bread mixed with a little milk and eggs, a dish typical of the South Tyrol region. It is a simple dish, one that, along with ribollita and polenta, falls into the category of cucina povera, or rather good food made during hard times, dishes that made use of the basic ingredients available. Having said this though, the canederli you'll find on menus in Bolzano are usually richer and more luxurious, dressed up with cheese, herbs, spinach, and meat. They are the perfect antidote to cold weather, and made what was meant to be a lunch-on-the-go in the Christmas market downright spectacular.

As much as I loved the canederli I tried in Bolzano I wasn't sure how well they'd do in my kitchen here in Rome -- they were more German than Italian, a cuisine that I'm not at all familiar with. I was convinced that they'd fall apart once they hit the water (this was bread, not pasta we were boiling). If they did in the end stay together after boiling, I worried they'd be too heavy, a shadow of the feather-light ones we'd enjoyed in Bolzano. To make matters worse, I had decided to take a risk and make these for a dinner party -- emboldened by this tart here -- and so though I followed the canederli recipe as carefully as possible, I mentally prepared myself to order pizzas for my guests, should they not work out (the pizzeria across from my house was thankfully open on a Sunday).

So, the verdict? Christmas miracle of Christmas miracles, the canederli bobbed along merrily in the broth they were cooking in, remaining perfectly intact (phew!!) And that's not all -- compactness aside, the dumplings were light and fluffy and cloudlike (!!!) in texture,  jam-packed with gooey melt-y cheese, salty rich speck, and sunny bright parsley, divine when served with a spoonful or two or three of toasty sage brown butter. They were cozy and warming, the food equivalent of a big hug, and thus a nice dish to eat as we close out 2016 (a year that I think we can all agree has called for more than a little comfort food).

In my haste to recount my adventures-in-canederli-making to you I forgot to mention that this recipe is also part of the fourth round of Cucina Conversations! Our theme this month is Italian Christmas recipes, either dishes you would eat for your Christmas meal in Italy (like these canederli!) or edible Italian Christmas gifts. Here's the recipe round-up from my six fellow bloggers who will be posting their recipes throughout the week:

Croccante (Italy's version of almond brittle) made by Rosemarie aka Turin Mamma;

Ricciarelli, a Tuscan almond cookie, baked by Daniela over at La Dani Gourmet;

Ciciarata -- a dessert made with chickpeas -- from Marialuisa at Marmellata di Cipolle

Baci di dama -- hazelnut cookies -- shared by Lisa on her blog Italian Kiwi;

Pizzelle -- a delicate, elegant cookie -- from Flavia of Flavia's Flavors;

Cicerata, -- a dessert made with honey of little bits of fried dough -- courtesy of Carmen over at The Heirloom Chronicles.

A couple of notes on this recipe: If your bread is not stale, you can place it in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 or so minutes, stirring it around a bit, until it dries out. Otherwise, if you have some time, you can lay it out on a baking tray for 24 hours, covered with a tea towel, and let it dry out that way. Can't find speck in your supermarket? Feel free to substitute prosciutto, or if you want these to be meat free, leave out the pork all together. If you'd like, you can leave out the sage butter and serve these instead in broth. If you prefer this option, boil more vegetable broth (about 1 cup per person) and serve the canederli like this (make sure you don't use the same broth you boiled the canederli in, as it will be cloudy from the flour). Place one or two canederli into each bowl, then pour the broth on them, and sprinkle the freshly grated Parmesan on top. 

Looking for other cozy recipes? Allow me to suggest this Lasagne alla bolognese, this Risotto with Peas or this Risotto with Butternut Squash, this Chickpea, Kale, and Sausage Soup, this Pasta e Fagioli, this Roasted Tomato Basil Soup, this Polpettone, these Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, this Pici with sausage ragu', this Mozzarella in carrozza, or this Polenta with Mushrooms. Looking for a recipe in general? Check out the blog's new Recipe Index, which makes it easier and quicker to find exactly what you want to cook or bake.

CANEDERLI

Ingredients for the dumplings:
10 ounces (300 grams) stale bread, diced 
1 cup (225 ml or 240 grams) milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (60 grams) flour
3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
3 ounces (84 grams) speck, chopped
7 ounces (200 grams) Fontina, Raclette, Swiss, or Gouda cheese (I used Swiss!)
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
12 cups (3 liters) vegetable broth 

To serve with butter and sage:
1 stick (8 tablespoons, 112 grams) unsalted butter
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
A few sage leaves

Directions:
Put the stale bread into a large mixing bowl. Add the milk, the eggs, the salt, the pepper, and the nutmeg. Mix everything together and leave the bowl, covered with aluminum foil, in the fridge for two hours. Stir the mixture every so often so that the bread can fully absorb the milk and eggs. When the two hours are up, remove the bowl from the fridge and add the flour. 
Finely chop the onion and fry it in oil and butter for ten minutes at medium heat, stirring occasionally. Let the onion cool. When the onion is cool, add it to the bread mixture along with the cheese, the speck, and the parsley. Mix everything together well then cover the bread mixture again and place it back in the fridge for half an hour. 
Time to form your canederli! Using your hands, make the canederli by pressing together enough of the bread mixture to make balls the size of a small orange (60 to 80 grams). You should end up with 14-16 canederli. After making each caenderli, roll it in flour to seal the outside. When all the canederli are ready, re-roll them into flour and compress them a second time.
Bring the vegetable stock to a boil on the stove. Place the canederli gently in to the broth and let them boil for 12-15 minutes (I found I had to boil mine 15 minutes) Remove them from the broth with a slotted spoon. While the canederli are boiling, prepare the sage butter by placing the butter, a pinch of salt and the sage leaves in a small pan over medium heat. Let the butter melt and bubble and cook until it turns light brown. This will happen quite quickly so use a light colored skillet (this will make observing the cooking process easier) and keep an eye on the butter. 
Pour the sage brown butter over the  canederli with some extra Parmesan and serve immediately. Makes 14-16 canederli, with a portion being 2-3 canederli.

Canederli recipe very slightly adapted from www.disgracesonthemenu.com.