Friday, October 15, 2010

Christmas in November - Reflections on Panettone

Well, Christmas is only months and months away so the shops are in full Christmas swing. Decorations that look like elves have been dropping LSD; hampers full of the stuff they didn't sell last year; and belt-fed plastic machine guns that fire whistling foam bullets in the toy catalogs (oh to be young again...).

Panettone bread and butter pudding - the true spirit of Christmas on a plate

Luckily, there is one aspect of Christmas that can't come soon enough, and that's panettone season. The smell.... The texture.... The bread and butter pudding..... So in the lead up to the festive season, here are a few thoughts from the gluttons at Eat Our Way regarding this highlight of Saturnalia. These were all purchased from the local big-name supermarket.
  • Ital Traditional Panettone - This was not a great way to start the season. This spoils Christmas as much as Scrooge McGrinch and, quite frankly, it can $%$#@ my &^%$. Dry, only a faint smell and not much fruit, it completely lacked that overwhelming moist, boozy, vanilla-toasty smell that shakes you by the neck and says, "IT'S FUCKING CHRISTMAS!!!" Instead all it could offer was, "Christmas? Oh yeah, I bought you a sack of charcoal. By the way, it's your turn to take out the rubbish bins."
  • Buinissomo Panettone Classico - My word, this is indeed the shizzle, as Mr S Dogg would surely attest. It looks as if Michelangelo had designed the packaging for Paris Hilton, as it comes in a cardboard Sistene Chapel of glory. Definitely better than the Ital, it offered fruit and a much more traditional panettone smell with an added citrus perfume. If anything, it erred slightly on the side of being a little too moist, so that it compressed in your mouth. All up, very good and made a truly excellent Bread and Butter Pudding.
  • Bauli il Panettone - The curate's egg of a panettone; it had an excellent moist but open texture and was generous with the fruit, particularly the orange peel. It also had a lovely citrus scent which, although it was very appealing (pun intended), it lacked the overwhelming panettone aroma that the Buinissomo had. A delicious fruit bread but without that merged magic vanilla-toasty-citrus smell that makes panettone what it is.
But apart from eating it, toasting it and generally elevating a humble cup of tea to a religious experience, there's one thing you can do with panettone that takes it from a bread-based confection to the food of the gods. This dessert is truly salvation in a baking dish.

Bread and butter pudding

Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding

Take the best part of a panettone and slice it thickly. Toast it lightly if you can be bothered, but it's not necessary. Butter each slice lightly and spread with a favourite preserve - we use either the quince jelly or kumquat marmalade we make.

Lay the slices in a buttered baking dish and cover with a rich custard mix - maybe 10 eggs to a litre of milk, with a few tablespoons of sugar and some vanilla.

Allow it to soak for a few minutes before putting into a slow-medium oven until its almost firm in the centre and golden on top. Serve warm or cool, but not hot.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cooking with Al

Al is learning to cook, partly through school, but also with us as well as a great big dose of teaching himself and practicing. There are few things more satisfying than watching someone try cooking a dish for the first time, practice the technique, try the result and then comment sagely on possible improvements. If I sound like a very proud parent, I am, but I'm also trying to be restrained in my comment so I don't embarrass him out of the kitchen....

He made Beggar's Chicken, something I've wanted to try since, well, I was probably about his age and saw it in a Women's Weekly cooking book. It looked magical, yet in my teenage mind was wildly profligate (throwing away a kilo of salt?) and required a lot of faith. Al, on the other hand, leaped after the briefest of looks and was well rewarded. In fact, we all were...

The result was worth the palaver. It looked roasted but was floating in juices and was the most incredibly tender chicken I've ever tasted, as though the meat fibers had been individually softened. The flavour was perfect - the smell of a little soy, ginger, spring onions and five spice wafted above the juices. It was truly wonderful.

Vanilla Slice - You'd have to drive a long way to get one this old school

He also made a Vanilla Slice worthy of a country baker and last week made a goat curry (he has no fear). All wonderful, and I am hoping for much more.

Goat curry - rich and heady with fragrance. Everyone loved it (except the goat).