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If seasonal eating is your thing (and if seasonal eating means fresh, delicious, abundant and cheap, why wouldn’t it be?), then this time of year may represent a little lull in the fresh fruits department. Summer’s sun-kissed stone fruit are a distant memory, and the tropical treats we enjoy so readily here in Hong Kong are still some time away. Of course, our supermarket shelves are still full, but of what? Woolly, woody and flavourless imitations of fruit’s in-season counterparts. In the depths of winter (however lacking in actual depth they may be here), it is prudent to take a break from fresh fruits and happily turn to dried.
As the liquid is lifted from drying fruit, their sweetness and flavour intensify, caramelised notes come to the fore bringing with them a heartening sense of well-being that abounds at Christmas time. While it’s most doubtful that there will be ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ in your home, that same toasty comfort can be achieved by nubbly burnt corners crispened with the addition of a little granulated sugar toasting in the oven.
The filling-threatening chewiness of dried fruit abates after some time spent in a warm bath. In this case, a vanilla-scented custard. And just as Christmas lunch’s savoury remains are enhanced with a few pantry staples, with the addition of some eggs, dairy or cheese to seasonal breads & pastries, wonderful once-a-year desserts are created with ease.
750ml cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Butter for greasing
Cream to serve
Melt a small amount of butter in a ramekin then using a pastry brush, liberally coat all sides of a baking dish. Put it into the fridge, and when the butter is well set, repeat the process with a second coat. For the lazy alternative, peel back the paper on one end of your butter, hold the papered end then rub it round the dish till it’s well coated.
Put the eggs, cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt into a bowl and whisk them thoroughly to combine. You can pass the mixture through a sieve to remove any stringy bits of egg, but it’s really not essential.
Tear the panettone into large chunks and tumble them into your buttered baking dish. Pour over the custard, then cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or as long as you need up to 48 hours.
Pull the pudding out of the fridge, sprinkle a little extra sugar over the top, then leave it to sit at room temperature while you preheat the oven to 180˚C. Bake for 45 minutes. To check if it’s done, use a butter knife to peek inside the center, if it is still very runny, pop it back in the oven and check again in 5 minutes.
A dusting of icing sugar is a nice final touch. Bring the dish to the table with a large spoon, a stack of bowls and a generous jug of cream and let everyone help themselves.