“A party without cake is just a meeting” – Julia Child
For Italians, Christmas without panettone would be like having Thanksgiving without turkey. The brightly colored, ribbon-handled boxes are stacked to the ceiling right now but will be disappear after the New Year.
Last Christmas, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It looked to me like a great big fruitcake. That skepticism only lasted until my first forkful of lemon-zested, powdered sugar paradise with an espresso on the side. The next day, I was elbowing my way toward the teetering displays to bring home a little Christmas cheer, Italian style.
The cake is legendary and although Italians agree that panettone has earned its place at the holiday table, they argue about the origins of this masterpiece. It is said to have been invented in the 15th Century in Milan but that is where consensus ends.
One legend is a love story between a baker’s daughter and a Milanese nobleman. Another legend revolves around a kitchen scullery boy saving a royal dinner party with a simple family recipe after the chef burns the dessert. We have heard all the legends and enjoyed each rendition.
Because it takes days to make panettone, most people have their favorite that someone else creates. The cake is made with something similar to a sourdough starter and the proofing process alone takes several days which is critical to give the cake its distinctive, fluffy insides. After buying more than we needed last year, I was surprised to learn how versatile this prized cake is in many variations.
The best part of the legends that swirl around this cake is that it produces a masterpiece that is unique to the world, steeped in tradition and mystery, shaped like a church cupola and totally unpredictable from kitchen to kitchen. After one bite, you will find yourself telling a story about this legendary cake.
One of our favorite preparations for leftover panettone is to make it into french toast with butter powdered sugar and fresh lemon squeezed on top. Just in case you see panettone in your local supermarket this year, our absolute favorite recipe for plain leftover panettone is:
Panettone Nutella Bread Pudding Recipe
• 2/3 cups Leftover Panettone (cubed)
• 3 tablespoons Nutella
• 3 Eggs
• 2 tablespoons of white or brown sugar
• 2 and 3/4 cups of half and half or whole milk
• Knob of butter (to grease the baking dish)
Step 1: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Lightly grease a square or round baking dish with a small amount of butter.
Step 2: Throw your cubed panettone into the dish and drop in a few scoops of Nutella.
Step 3: Mix the eggs, milk and sugar together until well combined and then pour it over the cubed bread until everything is coated.
Step 4: Leave the panettone to soak in the liquid (around 15 minutes)
Step 5: Put the baking dish into your preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes.
Step 6: The dish will be piping hot, so leave it to stand for a few minutes before serving.