This recipe is adapted, very slightly, from a recipe in Adventures of an Italian Food Lover , by Faith Heller Willinger and is a bit of a cross between bread pudding and a fruit cake. It is a combination of custard, cooked fruit, raisins soaked in a sweet desert wine such as Moscato or perhaps rum and coarse fresh bread crumbs. This bread pudding is easy to make and has an incredibly delicious, moist and dense texture.
The desert in the book was prepared by Fausto and Franca Maculan and their mother Giuseppina for a luncheon given at their Maculan winery near Venice. The original recipe uses raisins soaked in their Torcolato. The same desert wine is also served with the bread pudding. Torcolato is a very elegant desert wine, but it can be difficult to find in this country and generally sells for about $60 to $80 per bottle. You can find it online from several sources. The recipe below substitutes a Moscato desert wine for the raisins and a sparkling glass, or more, of a Moscato d”Asti to drink. Both are readily available and generally quite a bit less expensive than the Torcolato.
1 1/2 cups of seedless raisins
1 1/3 cups of Moscato, you can substitute your favorite desert wine or dark rum, such as Meyer’s Rum from Jamaica
2 or 3 firm ripe pears, such as the Bartlett Pear, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups
1 large Gala, or Fuji apple, you can substitute your favorite apple for making apple sauce, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups
1/2 cup or 1 stick of unsalted butter, plus some additional for buttering the pan
1/2 cup of turbinado or raw sugar, adjust amount according to the sweetness of the fruit and your taste
3 cups of course, fresh bead crumbs from a good quality loaf of artisan bread, or make your own with Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe tear the bread into chunks and pulse in a food processor
4 cups of whole milk
1 teaspoon of a good quality vanilla extract
3 large eggs zest from one medium organic lemon, about 2 teaspoons
Soak the raisins in the Moscato, covered for about 12 hours, at room temperature. Drain and reserve.
Peel, quarter, core and slice the pears and apple. Melt the butter in a heavy sauce pan over medium heat. Add the sliced pears, apple, and sugar. (If the pears are a bit soft, you can add them after the apple has cook for 5 minutes.) Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. Then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. the pan with a potato masher or a wooden spoon. Mash the fruit in.
Then simmer, stirring occasionally, until the the juice is thickened and the fruit resembles a chunky apple sauce, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Transfer the fruit mixture to a dish, taste and add sugar if needed, then allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 400o F.
In a bowl, whisk the milk and vanilla. Then stir in the remaining 2 1/2 cups of bread crumbs and let them soak for at least 15 minutes, up to hour or until the bread is well saturated. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, lemon zest and a pinch of sea salt. Then stir in the milk with the soaked bread crumbs, fruit purée and raisins.
Line the bottom of a leak-proof 10-inch spring-form pan with parchment paper.. (You can cover the outside bottom and side tightly with aluminum boil to make sure it is leakproof.) Lightly butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs.
Pour the filling into the pan and bake in the middle of the oven until the top is golden and the center is evenly set., generally about 35 to 45 minutes. In some ovens, however, it has taken me closer to 60 minutes.
Cool completely in the pan placed on a wire rack, for about 1 to 2 hours. Then cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. This will allow the flavors to develop.
To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan and release the sides. Transfer to a serving plate and slice. Serve with whipped cream or powdered sugar and a sparkling glass of Moscato d'Asti.