A baked French toast version of the classic Italian Christmas cake. No need to stand around and flip bread!
It would be impossible for me to let Christmas come and go without referencing my love-hate relationship with panettone. For Italians, Christmas always seems to involve panettone. Lots and lots of panettoni.* As I mentioned last year, it’s basically cake bombardment.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with panettone, it’s a cross between cake and bread. It’s really light and airy (since it’s made with yeast), but also has a rich, buttery taste and a good hit of sweetness.
While you can now find some panettoni made with chocolate, it’s usually flavored with candied citrus peel and/or orange zest, plus plenty of raisins.
*Grammatical fun fact: panettoni is the plural of panettone.
Panettone is one of those things that starts off being really good. So, why the love-hate relationship? Let me explain…
You cut the first piece of panettone. It’s good. So you wonder, ‘Wait, why was I complaining about this!?’ Having at least three panettoni sitting in your kitchen doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
But as the days and weeks go by, you start to get bored, and each piece of panettone becomes drier and drier. So you try offloading your a few panettoni onto your relatives, but they’ve all got panettoni too because for some reason no-one’s realized the stupidity of giving each other the same cake at the same time every single year.
That, in a nutshell, is my problem with panettone.
Keep in mind that I’m only half-Italian. I don’t know how my relatives with two Italian parents (which is most of them) deal with the cake overload. Then again, they probably handle these things better than I do – I have a tendency to be a, *ahem*, drama queen.
Moving on, let’s talk about this baked French toast. Just like with the Panettone Pancakes last year, the idea behind this baked French toast is to share the flavors of panettone without asking you to buy a giant cake.
After all, I actually love the flavors of panettone, despite my complaints about the tradition. I’m all for the combination of vanilla, citrus and raisins.
The key to this baked French toast is to get your hands on some vanilla bean paste. It’s a bit pricey, yes, but adds so much more flavor than plain old vanilla extract. Plus, everything becomes flecked with vanilla seeds.
Also, don’t get impatient and bake the French toast before it has chilled in the fridge for 20 minutes, as the dry bread needs time to soak up the egg/milk mixture. Longer than 20 minutes is fine, but not a minute less!
I used buttermilk in this recipe because it adds a ton of moisture and flavor. (Okay, I also had some leftover buttermilk to use up). If you don’t have buttermilk, whole milk (i.e. full-fat milk) would be the best substitute. Otherwise, you could probably get away with a low-fat milk if that’s all you have.
By the way, if you have some old panettone that’s drying out fast, then that’s delicious in baked French toast or bread pudding recipes. While I haven’t tried this recipe with panettone (all my cakes are still boxed up in their giant hexagon packagings), I’m fairly sure it would work. Or try using a combination of cubed bread and panettone.
Also, feel free to replace the raisins with chocolate chips. ‘Tis the season!*
*Yes, I’m going to take every opportunity to say that before the holidays are over.
- Baked French Toast
- 2 ½ cups (125g) cubed dry bread
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
- ¼ cup Greek-style yogurt
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- ¼ cup (60mL) buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons (20g) raisins
- 1 tablespoon (10g) candied mixed peel
- Maple syrup or honey
- Grease two 1-cup capacity ramekins. Divide the cubed bread between the ramekins, making sure the bread cubes are tightly packed.
- In a bowl, whisk the egg with a fork. Whisk in the orange zest, lemon zest, yogurt, honey and vanilla bean paste. Add the buttermilk, and whisk until completely combined. Stir in the raisins and candied mixed peel.
- Pour the mixture over the bread, dividing it evenly between the two ramekins. If the raisins and candied mixed peel are sitting on top of the bread, gently push them down into the cracks between the bread cubes.
- Place the ramekins in the fridge and let them chill for at least 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Bake the French toast for 25 – 30 minutes, or until golden brown (with a few darker spots). Serve with maple syrup or honey.
Make sure you use a thick, good quality yogurt. It doesn't need to be authentic Greek yogurt, just make sure it isn't thin/runny. Plain, vanilla or honey yogurts would work well in this recipe.
If you don't have buttermilk, whole (full-fat) milk would be the best substitute.