Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Feast of Saint Blaise and "Double Raisin Bread Pudding" Recipe

As we begin the month of February, we are reminded by so many special days and events such as Groundhog Day, the Super Bowl, Black History month, Valentines Day, and in my family, it is my dad’s Birthday. But, there is one special day that is important to the Roman Catholic religion and on February 3rd we celebrate, “The Feast of St. Blaise” or the Patron Saint of “Throat Illnesses.”

Very few facts are known about Saint Blaise. It is believed that he was a physician and a Bishop in Armenia who was martyred in 316 A.D. He was born into a rich and noble family who raised him as a Christian. As the persecution of Christians began, he received a message from God to go into the hills to escape persecution. Hunters discovered a cave surrounded by wild animals that were sick. St. Blaise walked among them unafraid, curing them of their illnesses. The hunters recognized St. Blaise as a bishop and captured him to stand trial. On the way to trial, he asked a wolf to release a pig that belonged to a poor woman. When St. Blaise refused to renounce his faith, he was thrown into prison where he helped the sick prisoners and saved a child who was choking on a fish bone. When St. Blaise was sentenced to be starved to death, a woman in gratitude, sneaked into the prison with food and candles. St. Blaise was tortured by having his flesh torn with wool combs and he was finally killed by the orders of the governor.
Montepulciano, Italy
St. Blaise Church

Many Catholics remember Saint Blaise’s feast day because of the Blessing of the Throats. Two candles are blessed, held slightly open, and pressed gently against the throat, while a blessing is said. Saint Blaise is the patron Saint of physicians, sick cattle, wax-handlers, wool combers and of wild animals because of his care for them, and most important he is invoked against afflictions of the throat. 

In Italy and Sicily, where St. Blaise is known as “San Biagio“, many stories and devotions are celebrated on his feast day, especially where wool is worked. Slices of Panettone bread or little cakes are baked on February 1st and blessed on St. Blaise’s feast day, February 3rd. In Serra San Bruno, in Calabria, a cookie is baked in the shape of a walking stick or a bishop’s crosier, which is called “abbacolo.” The legend says, that the young men of the town offer these cookies to their sweethearts. If the girl breaks the piece in two and gives part back to the boy, keeping the other for herself, it means she will marry him. On this feast day, Italians eat Panettone and drink a glass of red wine. This is done to “bless the throat.” Saint Blaise celebrations include a special mass, with blessings of the throat, parades with music, and many bonfires. The town of Mugnano di Napoli, is known for a huge fireworks display for this festive feast day. 

My recipe this week is in honor of St. Blaise. It is my take on Panettone bread. Usually Panettone Bread is made at Christmas time or sold in Italian Specialty stores. Sometimes we can’t always have  availability of this type of bread, so I think that this recipe is a delicious way to celebrate St. Blaise with a bread that can be found in stores mostly all over, Sun Maid Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread. My recipe is called “Double Raisin Bread Pudding.“ Don’t forget the wine glasses to enjoy some fabulous medium bodied red dessert wines, which are packed full of fruit flavors, making this variety an excellent choice for this recipe. A nice glass of Port or Vin Santo wine would be a tasty way to celebrate this feast day of Saint Blaise.
“Double Raisin Bread Pudding“

6 slices of Sun-Maid Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread (cut into 3/4 inch cubes)
1/2 cup of Sun-Maid Raisins
2 cups of milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
Unsalted butter to coat baking dish

Heat oven to 350 ° F (325° F for glass dish) Butter a 1 quart square or round baking dish. Combine bread cubes and raisins in baking dish. Combine with a whisk; milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Blend well. Pour over bread cubes and raisins. Let stand for 5 minutes. Bake uncovered 45-50 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature, plain, with ice cream or a spirited sauce over the top. (optional)
Yields: 6 servings

Spirited Sauce:
1-1/4cups of powdered sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup of Dark Rum, Brandy or Apple Juice
In saucepan, combine all sauce ingredients. Cook over low heat stirring constantly until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add sugar, continue to stir. Serve over warm pudding.
Till Next Time………….

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