Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the holiday season is now fully upon us.
We love this time of year and everything that comes with the holidays: the music, parties, decorations, bell ringers and just the general good cheer in the air.
But what we look forward to the most is baking holiday goodies with our 8-year-old son, Giovanni.
In our home, we begin our baking tradition on the day after Thanksgiving, and each year we always start with the same special treat, Peppermint Bark.
My mother made Peppermint Bark for us every year, and it has now become Giovanni's favorite.
The peppermint flavor shines in this mixture of creamy and crunchy textures, and it's always good to have on hand near the mistletoe. All year long we look forward to the Friday after Thanksgiving, and hail the return of Peppermint Bark to our home.
This pretty holiday candy is delicious to eat and easy to make. All you need is one pack of white almond bark, 12 large candy canes, peppermint extract and wax paper.
When we started making Peppermint Bark with Giovanni six years ago, I used a food processor to chop the candy canes instead of smashing them to bits in a plastic bag. I did this mostly for convenience, but this technique ended up creating a more refined texture to the candy, which turned out to be a hit with our family and friends.
Peppermint Bark's soft pink color provides a nice contrast when placed on a holiday cookie platter, adding a lovely burst of color among a sea of brown-toned goodies. It also makes a great hostess or teacher gift when packaged in holiday trimmings.
Tony's recipe this week features a traditional Italian fruitcake called Panettone, which originated in the city of Milan. Not to be confused with our American version of fruitcake, Panettone is a light, moist, flavorful cake more like a bread, with candied orange peel, lemon zest and raisins. It is wonderful served in slices after a meal or even for breakfast.
On this occasion, however, Tony uses it to spice up a traditional comfort dessert, with his recipe for Panettone Bread Pudding.
"Panettone is the king of Christmas cakes in Italian culture," Tony says. "In Etobicoke, the Toronto neighborhood where I grew up, the grocery stores and bakeries would be stacked with huge displays of Panettone. Big, bright boxes in every color, tied with fancy ribbons, all ready to give to your friends and loved ones. To me, Panettone signifies, hey, Christmas is here now."
Panettone Bread Pudding
7 large eggs
1½ cups heavy cream
1½ cups milk
1 tablespoon honey
½ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ pounds Panettone, cut into cubes
Pre-heat oven to 300° F
Combine the eggs, cream, milk, honey, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk until fully incorporated. Add the Panettone cubes and mix together. Cover with a damp towel and let the mixture soak for 30 minutes.
Pour the mixture into a 9-by-13 inch baking dish. Place the baking dish into a larger pan (like a roasting pan), and fill with hot water until it reaches half-way up the sides of the baking dish. This water bath will help to prevent burning, drying out or curdling of the mixture.
Bake at 300 degrees for one hour. When ready, the top should have a nice, golden crust. Place a toothpick into the center of the dish to test for doneness. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving, if serving warm.
Cut into squares, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with ice cream and fresh berries.
Wrap tightly with plastic or place in an airtight container for up to five to seven days. Reheat in the microwave to warm it up before serving.
1 package vanilla almond bark
12 candy canes, regular size (not the small canes)
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
Blend the candy canes in a food processor until desired texture is achieved. We prefer to blend them until all large pieces are crushed and the mixture is just a little grainier than sugar.
Melt the almond bark in a sauce pan over medium-low heat, until all lumps are gone. Remove from heat and stir in the crushed candy canes and peppermint extract until thoroughly mixed.
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and pour the bark mixture onto the sheet, smoothing out to reach all edges. Once all the bark has been transferred lift the sheet up with both hands and gently bang it down on the counter a few times to smooth out the mixture. Place in a refrigerator or cold place and allow to set until completely hard, at least one hour.
When bark is hardened, peel from waxed paper and break into pieces (like toffee or peanut brittle). Store in an airtight container until gone.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni.