Prep Time: 20 minutes + soaking overnight | Cook Time: 45 minutes
Christmas morning came early for half of my family this year, which I see as a sign of maturity. Maturity in that our nieces and nephews are all grown up and will be spending the actual holiday with their in-laws, which is why we celebrated with them in early December. And maturity in that I used to show off by baking homemade panettone for Christmas morning, but I’ve wised up. There are so many good versions on the market now that I buy one instead and use it in a warm, puffy breakfast casserole. That buys me more time to sleep, too, because I make this the night before, slide it in a cold oven in the morning, and go back to bed while it bakes.
In Italian, panettone means “big bread” (just as minestrone means “big soup”) and that’s an apt description: it’s a big golden dome studded with dried fruit. It used to be sold mainly in Italian markets here, but now it’s available in supermarkets and Trader Joe’s and even on the occasional food cart. I buy panettone made only with raisins for this recipe, although you can use the kind with candied fruit if you like. Or buy pandoro (“golden bread,” which has no fruit) or raisin bread or challah.
It’s a good thing I stopped baking my own panettone. Turns out I had no idea what I was doing and that making the real stuff is an obsession for artisan bakers. So I’ll leave the hard work to them and stick with this simple way to keep my tradition alive. I’m mature enough to know that’s what matters.
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 panettone or 1-lb loaf raisin bread or challah
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
6 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
good-quality maple syrup, warmed
Rub a 9×13-inch or other 3-quart baking dish with the butter. Tear panettone into chunks and place in a very large mixing bowl. In another bowl or in a 4-cup glass measure, beat the milk, cream, eggs, and sugar until well blended. Pour over panettone pieces and with a large spoon, mix until panettone soaks up most of the batter. Pour mixture into the baking dish and turn over any panettone pieces that are crust-side-up so that the yellow interiors are face up. Cover dish with foil and refrigerate overnight.
An hour before serving, slide the dish with the foil on into a cold oven (otherwise, the dish will crack) and turn oven to 350°F. After 25 minutes, gently pull off and discard foil. Continue to bake until mixture is puffed and golden, about 20 more minutes. Serve with warm maple syrup to pour on top.