It’s pretty amazing to me that in all my years of baking yeasted breads, including sweet ones like stollens, babas, and kugelhopfs, that I have never made a panettone. I’m even half Italian! But I haven’t. So I decided it was about time.
Now, I really could have purchased one, because what I had in mind for my panettone was to use it to make a French toast “casserole” that I’d spotted a recipe for – I think originally on Nigella’s website… but maybe not. I think she used her panettone for a Christmas trifle, which I also wanted to make, but time is always a factor during the holidays. As in, lack of time. And of course I was determined to serve this French toast casserole using home-made panettone on Christmas morning! (Why didn’t I come up with this plan in November??!!!)
I located the easiest recipe I could find for panettone. Many traditional recipes require two days of baking, but since I had a few other things to do, I chose the easy route. No guilt associated with that decision. Besides, I was just going to slice it all up anyway.
Here’s my panettone recipe that I used, as well as the French Toast casserole it ended up in, and happily so!
1/2 cup raisins, brown or golden
3 ounces citron, chopped
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cups white flour, approximately
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, beaten together
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons cream
Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover them with boiling water; set aside to soak.
Place the citron and orange zest in a medium bowl. When the raisins have plumped, drain them well and add to the citron; set aside.
Heat the milk in a heat-proof measuring cup or small bowl, using a microwave, until it is hot to the touch, but not burning. See testing water for baking with yeast.
Sprinkle with the yeast and then the sugar. Set aside for a few minutes, then stir with a mini whisk. Place the container in a warm place for about 5 minutes. The milk-yeast mixture will double in volume.
Meanwhile, place 2 cups of flour in a large bowl. Add the salt, the egg mixture, honey, vanilla extract, butter, and the milk and yeast mixture.
Using an electric mixer, or a stand mixer using the dough paddle, mix everything for about 5 minutes. Add the dried fruits and mix until it’s fully incorporated.
Using the extra flour, turn the dough out onto your work area, and knead the dough until it’s smooth, about 2 minutes, incorporating flour as necessary. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rise where it is for about 2 hours. Alternatively, if you need your work area or you kitchen is drafty and cold, place the dough into a greased bowl, cover it, then put the bowl in a warm place
Butter a panettone pan. After the dough has risen, knead it a little more, incorporating a little flour, only if necessary, then form a ball with the dough. Place it in the panettone pan.
Return the pan to a warm place, and let rise two more hours.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Combine the egg yolk and heavy cream in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Brush the mixture over the top of the risen bread. Then, using a sharp knife, slice a X into the top of the bread. I didn’t make my X wholeheartedly, since I wasn’t going to be showing off the cake. I didn’t tie it up with brown paper and tie a bow around it either. Normally, I would have let the bread rise again in order for the X to have an impact. But I just put the bread in the oven.
Bake the panettone for 45-50 minutes. Test the middle with a cake tester to make sure it’s cooked through, but of course, don’t overcook it or it will I’m sure form a drier crumb. Let cool for about 30 minutes, then remove it from the pan and let cool completely.
For the French toast breakfast casserole, I sliced the panettone very thinly, then placed the slices in an 8″ square baking pan, filling in the gaps with smaller pieces. I chose a small pan because I wanted some leftover toasted panettone all to myself… with melted butter and perhaps my spiced cranberry jelly.
But back to the French toast. When I had formed approximately half of the layers in the baking pan, I sprinkled them with a handful of dried cranberries, and then finished with the remaining layers. One note: A less lazy baker might have cut off all of the crust first, but I didn’t care about this.
Then I whisked together 5 eggs and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream, and poured it all over the panettone. Then I sprinkled it with ground cinnamon. I covered the “casserole” (sorry, I hate that word!) with foil and refrigerated it overnight.
The next morning, I put the “casserole” out to warm for about one hour, then heated the oven to 350 degrees. I baked it for 30 minutes covered, then removed the foil and continued cooking it for 15-20 minutes. The top should be golden brown, and the middle should be cooked through. If it’s not, keep baking it until it is. The timing, of course, will vary depending how large your baking dish is, and how thick you made the layers.
Verdict: This French toast casserole was really good. It was moist, only slightly sweet, and had the subtle fruity flavors. I served it warm, with warmed maple syrup. I’m glad I made it, but next time I’ll buy a panettone, or just use good cinnamon raisin bread. And I still want to try Nigella’s Panettone Trifle! There’s always next year…