Panettone has been getting really popular in the UK in the last couple of years, and has quickly carved out a niche for itself, in amongst the bottles of wine and boxes of chocolates, as a convenient catch-all Christmas present for employees, colleagues, distant relatives, next door neighbours and other people that you don't really want to buy a present for but won't shirk the obligation as long as you can do it for less than a tenner, it can be picked up at Tesco's, and doesn't add too much weight to your pre-holiday shop.
Which is a shame, actually - it's fantastic stuff, panettone, and I used to really enjoy the fact that it was a special holiday treat that had to be sought out in the better class of deli. Being imported in small quantities for those in the know, it always retained its airy, moist lightness, improbably combining spongy fluffiness and cakey moreishness in one tall, soft, fruity loaf. Yum yum. These days it's all pile 'em high sell 'em cheap, which leads to lower quality loaves being sold in the first place, on top of which a glut of them in every aspiring middle class home means that there's all this half eaten or half stale panettone lying around and - tragically! - getting thrown out. Plus it gives panettone a bad name, which is just sad.
Ahem. One does, at this time of year, occasionally end up with a bit more Panettone than can be readily consumed, is what I'm sayin'. When faced with the possibility of having to throw ours in the bin earlier today however, I chose to heroically try and rescue it by giving it a new lease of life as bread and butter pudding instead. BBP is a dessert I've only recently come to see the beauty of, and have not hitherto attempted to cook myself, so it was along the lines of adventures in cookery, which is heaps of fun (to save you from the suspense, let me say right now that it came out quite delicious). In case you're apprehensive, let me assure you that the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble, and once it's in the oven it cooks itself - so it's not going to be some huge project that you need to get a babysitter for or anything. You can knock it together before sitting down to dinner and it'll be ready by the time the dishes have been cleared.
To make like food saving hero rather than a trend following zero, you will need:
- About 375gr of panettone past the first bloom of youth (that is to say, a standard 500gr loaf that you've eaten some of), preferably of the fruity rather than plain variety
- 750ml milk
- 250ml single cream
- 50gr butter
- 2.5tbsp caster sugar
- 1 egg (disclosure: I made mine with 2 eggs and, while it was yummy, the very bottom layers were a tad omeletty in aftertaste, so I'm trying to save you from my mistakes here)
- Some fresh nutmeg
Here's what you do with it:
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Cut the panettone into slices about 1cm thick. It doesn't really matter what shape they are as it all cooks down together into a lovely uniform gooeyness, and in any case will depend on what shape slices you've cut out of the thing in the first place, so don't sweat it.
- Butter each slice well on both sides and arrange them in close-fitting layers in a heat-proof dish. Press down a little to pack them in tightly, but only a little - you still want some room to be left for the milk & cream to seep right down to the bottom. I'm all about the hot and sticky rather than the brown and crusty, so I like my baked puddings deep - but you can go ahead and use a standard Pyrex tray and do just two layers. Ours had four, which makes a bit of a difference at the cooking stage, but more on that later.
- In a jug, mix the milk, cream and sugar till well blended. Beat the egg separately, then combine with the rest of the liquids. Pour the whole mess over the panettone in its tray and generously top with grated nutmeg.
- Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour if you went for the deep option or about 40-45 minutes if you're a traditionalist. When ready it should be brown and fairly toasty up top, and chances are that it will have risen somewhat and be springy to the touch.
- Let stand for 10-15 mintues, then serve in bowls using a large spoon to dish up - this is not one for slicing. Enjoy!
If you happen to have been stuck with non-fruit enriched panettone, sprinkle a small handful of mixed dried fruits and candied peel between each two layers of bread. If you're lucky enough to have been given chocolate panettone (you dirty thing!), I should imagine that candied peel would still go marvelously, as well as small pieces of marzipan, if you like such things. Which I do. Hmm. Must go find some chocolate panettone and experiment...