The Best Bread Pudding Recipe

Bread pudding has a bit of a bad rep. Maybe it is the concept of making a dessert by baking leftover bread in a pool of custard that leaves some unimpressed. I, however, adore it. Bread pudding is the perfect combination of cake and custard, two of my favorite things. I do not know if Clyde’s in DC still serves this, but occasionally I have fantasies where I am eating the chocolate chip banana bread pudding that I had there once over five years ago. Talk about a lasting impression.

Banana bread. Pumpkin bread. Brioche babka. Cinnamon raisin bread. There is a never-ending list of breads that I would turn into a bread pudding. One version I had not yet tried is panettone bread pudding.

Panettone is that Italian holiday sweet bread, sometimes known as Italian fruitcake. Though, I personally don’t see the connection asides from the use of dried and candied fruit. A good panettone is a soft and flavorful; it is more cake-like than bready. It should be great on its own, but pop a slice in a toaster and spread a little butter and jam, and you’ll have yourself a wonderful breakfast or snack. For a next level breakfast, dip panettone slices in French toast batter and fry up in butter served with real maple syrup.

How do I know so much about what to do with panettone? Excellent question. Aside from being Italian where I have a fixation on finding the best panettoni to share with my dad, I recently wound up in a situation where I had a large quantity of panettone on my hands. Let’s just say that my friends over at Wegmans convinced me to purchase their very large display panettone for a great price.

Do you know anyone who would buy this much panettone?

I spent five months during quarantine working in the Chestnut Hill Wegmans’ kitchen. I am a bit of a Wegmans stan, and I love supporting my old co-workers at the location where I previously did and still do most of my grocery shopping (despite living practically across the street from a Whole Foods). Yet, buying this giant panettone might have been one of the wildest things I did this year. I was planning on bringing it as a surprise for my dad for Thanksgiving, but I made the decision to not travel for the holiday due to Covid. So, I was stuck with this huge, ginormous cake-bread that I left in my car because I just did not know what to do with it for just myself.

Panettone is made with starter and has a long fermentation process, similar to sourdough bread. If panettone are left unopened in their sealed package, they can often keep fresh for months. (Read individual package recommendations for shelf life). So, it did not shock me one bit that I pulled this bread out of the trunk of my car after a month with it still being in the same shape I bought it.

As much as I love Wegmans, I did not have great faith in this panettone. Like most grocery stores, I often find Wegmans’ bakery items to be lackluster. I understand that grocery stores just cannot make the same quality baked goods as scratch bakeries, especially not if they want to sell products at supermarket prices.

I was blown away by the quality of this panettone from Wegmans. As I cut into the colossal loaf, I could tell how soft it was. I tasted it and instantly detected that this was made with what must have been an incredible amount of real butter. Butter can be hard to come across in commercial bakeries, where butter is often replaced or supplemented with cheaper hydrogenated oils.

This panettone is great on its own. I know because I couldn’t stop tasting it. However, since I had so much of it, I wanted to do a few baking projects. While bread pudding might seem too obvious, I had come across a recipe for caramelized panettone bread pudding on David Lebovitz’ blog while I was doing some research for my food writing class. He basically challenged me to try this recipe by stating that you won’t find a better bread pudding recipe anywhere. Bold words, David.

He wasn’t wrong. This was the most divine bread pudding I have ever tasted. The custard-bread becomes luscious after baking. The custard itself is rather neutral, just flavored with vanilla, so it is going to take on the flavorings in the panettone. If you are using a traditional panettone like I was, there should be a hefty amount of candied orange peal. That came across so beautifully. The orange peel permeated through the custard, and every bite is like a little piece of citrus heaven.

I know there are pastry chefs who are experimenting with panettone flavors, like Roy Shvartzapel. While those might be good in this dessert, those panettoni are probably best enjoyed on their own without messing with them too much. I think the traditional panettoni might be best in this bread pudding. The citrus makes this dessert feel light even when it is decidedly not given the sheer amounts of butter, sugar, eggs.

So, thank you David Lebovitz for writing this recipe. While I can’t say I won’t ever want to make any other bread pudding every again, this is officially my new favorite bread pudding recipe. I encourage you all to try it yourself. Grab a panettone from the supermarket and get baking.

You can find the recipe as well as explore David’s blog here.

A few notes on my baking experience: I doubled the recipe because I wanted to use up as much panettone as possible. A 9×13 dish is not quite double the volume as 8×8 square pan, so I did have some custard leftover. (If you run into this issue, you can make yourself a nice creme anglaise). Also, David said this is best served at room temperature or chilled. I tried heating it up, room temperature, and chilled, and my opinion is that room temperature is best. I stored the bread pudding in the fridge, so I pulled it out a bit beforehand to bring back to room temperature before digging into leftovers.