Bread and butter pudding has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent times. In this recipe the bread element has diminished and been replaced with panettone, the light and delicious dome-shaped Italian yeast cake studded with candied orange and lemon peel and sultanas. Panettone is traditionally eaten at Christmas, but is available all year round from Italian delicatessens. It is difficult to cut when fresh, as it is so spongy; cut the panettone in half the day before cooking to allow it to dry out slightly.
The milk has been enriched with cream and eggs to make a smooth custard and extra sultanas are plumped with grappa to give a distinctively Italian kick to the finished amalgamation. If you don’t have grappa (an eau-de-vie made from the pulp left after crushing muscat grapes for wine), use brandy or dark rum.
It is a good idea to keep some raisins in a jar of grappa or brandy in the kitchen. They make a nice addition to a lot of dishes, savoury as well as sweet.
Make the pudding the day before serving: preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas3 • If using, split the vanilla pod by cutting lengthwise in half from just below the stalk and then again to make four strips still joined at the top • Butter the ovenproof dish.
Put the milk and cream in a saucepan with the vanilla pod, if using, and place over a low heat to extract flavour.
Beat the eggs with caster sugar in a bowl until they make a smooth foaming mixture.
Butter the panettone slices and make 3 sandwiches with the grappa-soaked sultanas as a filling. You can cut these into smaller sandwiches, or use a pastry cutter to make rounds.
Arrange these in the ovenproof dish. (If you have a round ovenproof dish of the right size, consider cutting the panettone across to make one large sandwich.) Spread the sandwiches with apricot jam, if using.
Bring the milk and cream mixture to boil, stirring in the vanilla essence, if using. Pour over the eggs and sugar (through a sieve, if using a vanilla pod), whisking to make a custard. Ladle this carefully over the bread and leave to soak for 15 minutes.
Place the dish in a bain-marie or large deep dish and pour in water to come halfway up the sides. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, until firm but pliant to the touch. It will be golden brown on top with a slight crust.
Leave to cool, then chill in the fridge overnight.
Sprinkle the top with icing sugar before serving. Serve with cold double cream and berries if you don’t feel this is over-egging the pudding!.
© 1993 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.