Bread Pudding, Italian Style, With Sambuca!
Tis the season, as they say, for more sweet things than we can count. Because of this, by January first, we have all signed on to resolutions we can’t/won’t keep and diets that will not make it past six weeks. Nevertheless, soul-mates in blogdom, if you are anything like me, nothing will deter you from making and eating your weight in holiday sweet treats. While you are pondering what sweet thing will grace your table and your waistline this year, I offer a twisty path to a favorite you may not readily think of. You may have heard me pontificate on all of the creative ways that Italians use bread. Well, here’s another one – Bread Pudding or DOLCE DI PANE. The flavors I suggest in this dish are great for any time of year – but particularly appropriate for holiday time.
Oh! Does this one make my heart skip a beat! Why? As many of you probably know from your own experience, especially Southerners, Bread Pudding is probably the most comforting of desserts. When I think of sweet comfort food – this one definitely goes to the head of the class. Italian Bread Pudding or DOLCE DI PANE is no different than any other in ease of preparation. BUT —this particular recipe sings a little louder than others in that it contains the traditional elements of Italian dolci: the dried fruits, the citrus zest, and candied peel, chestnuts, dark chocolate and…have I hooked you yet? Well, throw this in to the mix and just try to walk away: Sambuca!
Sambuca is an anise flavored Italian liqueur, very often the most preferred in espresso, or as the Italians say “Caffe Corretto” (corrected coffee). Italians like to think that if their coffee needs correcting – Sambuca is the ticket to paradise. I’m inclined to agree with that. I chose Sambuca not only because I just like it but also because the anise flavor compliments both the dried cherries and the dark chocolate used in this recipe. It is also considered a stomach settling influence – much desired at the end of a mammoth holiday dinner.
Note: If Sambuca is not an option – substitute anise flavoring!
The Sauce: As if it needed any embellishment – I have added the easiest Vanilla Sauce with a touch of Sambuca or anise flavoring, if you like . This Vanilla Sauce is so simple to make and is perfect with the pudding.
A little history: There is nothing new about Bread Pudding, although some restaurants might tout their pricey version on the dessert menu as if they just hung the moon with it. Actually, it even pre-dates me, going back to the 11th-12th century. Many of the puddings prepared in ancient times, were made with meat or meat drippings and resembled sausage. The puddings became sweeter during the Middle Ages. They were thought of as peasant food, as the poorer classes looked for ways not to waste precious bread and also to stave off hunger with more satisfying dishes made with it. Italy was no different during these times and Italian bread pudding became a very traditional offering especially in the Lombardy region.
Bread Pudding..reallllly? An emphatic YES! This DOLCE DI PANE with its specific ingredients and kissed with Sambuca is a dessert that reminds us of home, tradition, and coming together. Although it is not as over the top in lavish presentation as some other desserts, it is, in some ways, more pleasing at the end of a big meal, and definitely surpasses many of the more ostentatious desserts in flavor. Flavor wins the day here. There is something uniquely seductive about a spoonful of this when it is served warm, with the fruits and chocolate hitting your tongue at once followed by the surprising elegance of the Sambuca. This is the one you want to serve when the lights are low, the fire is lit, and, well… you fill in the rest of the story.
You know, some things are just mystical…
DOLCE DI PANE
Prep: 55 min.
Cook: 1 hour
1 lb. bread – crusts removed – pull apart into pieces
2 1/2 c. Milk
3/4 c. Sugar
5 egg yolks
Zest of 1 orange
4 Tbsp. Sambuca ( can substitute 3 tsp. anise)
1 c. Chestnuts – cut in half
1/3 c. Candied Orange Peel – chopped
1/2 c. Dried Cherries
1/2 c. good dark Chocolate – cut coarsely
Butter for greasing pan
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Put bread pieces in large bowl. Pour milk over and let it soak in for 45 min. Turn it a couple of times during the soaking.
Butter an 8 inch Bundt pan or a mold for baking the pudding.
Butter a piece of parchment paper and line a loaf pan with it.
Squeeze the milk out of the bread or press the milk out through a strainer and put the bread in another bowl. Discard milk.
I like to plump my dried cherries by pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit for several minutes
Mix the following ingredients together and add to the soaked bread: sugar, yolks, egg, zest, Sambuca, Chestnuts, peel, cherries, and chocolate.
Pour into Bundt pan, mold, or lined loaf pan – press to even.
Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.
Let it cool down in pan about an hour. Unmold.
Cut into generous pieces and always serve it warm with Vanilla Sauce (with or without the Sambuca).
VANILLA SAUCE (WITH SAMBUCA)
The Sambuca is optional in this. Melt 2 cups Vanilla Ice Cream. Do not heat the ice cream – just let it melt. Mix 2 Tbsp. Sambuca with 2 teaspoons of Cornstarch –dissolving it and add it to the ice cream. Mix well and refrigerate. Serve sauce at room temperature over the pudding or under it. (If you don’t want to use Sambuca – just omit it or add a little anise to the sauce instead. You will still want to add the cornstarch.)
There you are! Not too many ingredients and very simple to create.
To Serve: You can serve this DOLCE DI PANE in the traditional way on a plate with some sauce under or over it. I like to serve it in a tall glass like a martini glass or wine goblet with the sauce. It makes such a pretty presentation. I also like it just a little bit warm with the sauce at room temperature. The flavors really are more pronounced when the chill is off. This is a beauty!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography