Panettone, I’m sorry, but you just don’t ring my jingle bells. I know you arrive in beautiful packaging, with your gorgeous proportions, but, frankly, you always come across as a bit dry for my taste.
Italians the world over may wince at my words, but the bigger worry is what to do when you don’t like eating the panettone that is given to you at Christmas. Many of us have turned it into B&B pudding at some stage of the year, but even then, the particular flavour of a panettone baked in a custard doesn’t quite do it for me.
So I got to thinking about what else I could do with it, at Christmas time, that I would enjoy and that would not completely disrespect the dignified beginnings of the panettone. It is a bread of ancient origins and a complex dough that can take several days to prove, much like a good sourdough. The cake is flavoured with candied citrus fruit and raisins and gets its bright yellow colour from the eggs in the dough.
It seems there are many traditional ways of eating panettone. First, it is predominantly eaten at breakfast and goes splendidly with coffee, or even dipped in your coffee. In some parts of Italy, it is eaten with crema di mascarpone, a concoction of mascarpone, alcohol, eggs and sugar. Or it can be accompanied by sweet wine or hot, sweet beverages.
But it was once I realised the shape was a perfect fit for my trifle bowl that two Christmas traditions, from different countries, collided on my kitchen bench. This is certainly not one for the purists, but bear with me. Slice the panettone crosswise in a non-traditional way, soak it in hot coffee and alcohol, then sandwich it in crema di mascarpone and it suddenly becomes a Christmas version of a tiramisu. In a trifle bowl. No jelly required.
This may not be for everyone, but it does improve panettone for me and, strangely enough, gives a new life to tiramisu. The bread has more “chew” and texture than the traditional savoiardi biscuits and offers a delicious counterpoint to the creaminess of the mascarpone mix.
The tiramisu recipe is largely borrowed from Andrew McConnell and, when he featured it in this paper some years ago, he called for restraint, advising that the alcohol content should not be the highlighted flavour. But it’s Christmas and I find that if I add enough grappa, it’ll certainly make my bells ring.
– 500ml strong, hot coffee
– 100ml grappa or eau de vie
– 120g castor sugar
– 6 egg yolks
– 2 eggs
– pinch salt
– 1 cup pure cream
– 500g mascarpone, at room temperature
– 1 panettone
– cocoa powder
Mix the coffee, grappa and 30 grams of the sugar in a bowl until the sugar dissolves, then set it aside.
Whisk the egg yolks, whole eggs, salt and remaining sugar in an electric mixer for about 15 minutes, until very pale and thick.
Fold the cream into the mascarpone, followed by the aerated egg mixture.
Take the panettone and horizontally slice it into three. Place the bottom slice on a plate and pour over a third of the coffee mixture, then lift it carefully into the trifle bowl. Spread one-third of the mascarpone mixture evenly over the top of the first slice of panettone and repeat these steps twice.
Wrap with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
Before serving, dust the top with a generous layer of cocoa powder.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 30, 2019 as "Trifling with a classic". Subscribe here.