Making French Toast with Italian Pannettone

Her Editorness received a gift of a loaf of panettone, that wonderful Italian fruit bread, along with a suggestion of a recipe using it. Naturally, I was elected to prepare it while she was in charge of vetting the recipe.

My grandfather, who lived to be 98 years old, loved panettone though I don’t know how he acquired the taste.

Having been a powder monkey in the British Navy and part of the battle for Gallipoli, he returned to his native Cornwall to try his hand at mining, a job Cornishmen are famous for. But along came a depression, so he and his brothers and their wives and children (among them my mother) took passage on a ship and came to America. Grandpa raised angora goats in Gold Country and later settled in Watsonville where he set up a fertilizer business – more precisely, he delivered chicken poop to the fields and ranches in the area.

My grandparents were happy and successful and never wanted – nor asked – for anything. They’d take their Airstream to the desert each year and loved to spend the afternoon at the Red Barn flea market. Escaping a depression in England, only to land in the middle of one here in America, they were frugal and careful with their money.

In his later years, I’d ask him if there was anything I could do for him and the answer was always “no.” I caught him once up on his roof, well into his ninth decade, cleaning the gutters of the house with no one spotting him on the ladder.

I’d also ask if there was anything I could get for him on my way over for a cup of tea, always kept on the stove. Sometimes he’d ask for a bottle of Tawny Port, sometimes a loaf of panettone. Those last few years, when there was only him, a loaf of panettone could last a long time, and he would make French toast of it when it got a little old.

So a loaf of panettone always makes me think of him and I was glad to see the gift. We had some of it as a sort of dessert, then I made big, thick slices of the rest and served panettone as french bread for Sunday morning brunch.

To make any kind of French toast was always a contest at the firehouse. I won the Firehouse French Toast Cookoff of the Century with a pillow loaf of sourdough bread, cut extra thick and dipped in a mixture of a cup of half and half and three beaten eggs plus a teaspoon of vanilla. I dip the bread on each side in the mixture and grill it on a hot griddle with a little butter until it’s golden brown on both sides.

Sometimes I sprinkle a little sugar on it when I serve it, but almost never add syrup – and I sure wouldn’t add it to French toast made with panettone.

Karin Locke, giver of the panettone, said that when she makes French toast with panettone, she doesn’t combine the milk and eggs but rather dips first in the milk, then in the eggs, then in some slivered almonds spread out on a plate. The almonds get a little crispy on the griddle and are perfect without any syrup.

Try it. And think of my grandpa when you do.

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