Breakfast Bread Pudding: French Toast Baked in the Oven

Dense, crusty bread is soaked in a custard bath, drizzled with sweet syrup and baked in the oven so that it’s crisp and sugary on the outside, soft on the inside, and oh-so very satisfying. Put everything together the night before, pop it in the oven in the morning, put your feet up on the couch and, when the rest of the family’s finally emerged, you’ll have a wonderful, leisurely breakfast. And before you know it, the entire dish will be gone.


THE RECIPE


Breakfast Bread Pudding

(single recipe should serve about 4-6)

Don’t forget to check out my Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions at the bottom of the recipe.

Ingredients

Bread and Custard

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups half & half
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 loaf dense, crusty bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

Syrup

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp real maple syrup
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • Optional: 1 cup chopped toasted pecans

Directions

The night before…

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half, milk, and vanilla extract until combined.
  2. Add bread cubes and gently toss to ensure all cubes are coated in the custard mixture
    • Don’t be afraid to get messy; your hands work best!
  3. Leave to sit about five minutes to ensure the bread has soaked up enough custard, which is what will keep it super moist.
  4. Lightly grease a 9×13″ pan.
  5. Fill it with the egg-soaked bread cubes, spreading them out evenly without pressing or compacting the mixture.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning…

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pull the casserole out of the fridge.
  2. To prepare the syrup, melt the butter in a small saucepan.
  3. Add the maple syrup and brown sugar, cooking and stirring until the sugar has melted into the butter and everything is incorporated nicely.
  4. If using, stir in pecans.
  5. Pour syrup evenly over entire casserole and bake, uncovered, for one hour, until bread has puffed up and turned a beautiful golden color with syrup bubbling throughout.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least five minutes.
  7. To serve, simply cut as big a square as you think you can handle 🙂

Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions

Bread: It’s essential that a dense bread is used in this recipe so that you don’t end up with mushy bread soup, which is what will happen if you use a common sandwich bread. Appropriate breads for this recipe would be Italian, French, Challah, ciabatta–most breads that you might consider “rustic” or “artisanal” would be appropriate.

Half & Half and Milk: Half and half is like half heavy cream, half whole milk. So, if you need to substitute, keep that in mind. Of course, if you’re dead-set on using something lower fat, feel free to experiment with a lower fat milk.

If you’re dairy free, substitute with the appropriate dairy-free alternative.

Butter: This is important for the overall flavor of the bread pudding and, as I’m against margarine and other fake butters, I do not recommend or condone replacing it. Instead of attempting to make a very fattening meal less so, I recommend eating less 😉 Of course, though, the choice is yours.

Maple Syrup: This is a great natural sweetener, but it seems you either love it or you hate it. If you hate it, feel free to substitute with your preferred liquid sweetener, keeping in mind that it will affect the flavor. I substitute with my favorite pancake syrup, Golden Griddle, since this is really baked French toast.

Light Brown Sugar: Light brown sugar has a certain amount of molasses in it. It’s, essentially, like granulated sugar plus molasses. And, of course, dark brown sugar is the same, but with more molasses.

If you don’t have light brown sugar but you have one of these others, go ahead and substitute it. The flavor is going to change, yes, but it’ll still be delicious.

If you really want to keep it as it should be, you can combine granulated sugar with dark brown to make light brown or combine molasses with granulated sugar, though the molasses flavor will be fairly pronounced.

Pecans: Feel free to sub any nut you like, though I recommend pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and maybe peanuts as the most appropriate. Why toast them? Because the flavor will be much better.

Why Prep the Night Before? This will allow the bread to really soak up that custard mixture. If you just thought of making it and really want to do it now and not tomorrow, don’t worry about it. There are plenty of bread puddings that don’t sit overnight and go right into the oven, just make sure you toss the bread well so that it evenly soaks up the custard and is nice and moist.

Fridge to Oven: If you’re using a metal or fridge-to-oven baking dish, your casserole can go right into the oven when you’re ready for it.

If you’re using a glass dish that you’re unsure of, you may want to allow it time to come to room temperature or place it in the cool oven, prior to preheating, so that it warms gradually and doesn’t crack upon hitting the heat.

Variations: The options are endless with this recipe. Bread puddings have such a huge range of flavors, you can add just about any fruit or spice to suit your mood or palette. Think about different fruits, nuts, and liquors you could add to the bread mixture or syrup and get experimenting! The next time I make it, I plan to use my homemade Challah with tons of cubed granny smith apples and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.


THE STORY


I am not a French toast fan…I’ve always had issues with eggs and egg-y foods; they tend to make me a little nauseated unless I’m craving them. So, French toast is just not where it’s at for me. Beyond being able to taste the “custard” too well, I just don’t like the texture of the bread! Of course, always a polite guest, I eat what’s been made for me…thank goodness…because if I had refused to try this French toast casserole, I would surely, surely be missing out.

My best friend’s parents own a cottage up in the thumb of Michigan where we absolutely love to spend hot summer weekends relaxing, barbecuing, drinking on the boat, and sitting by the bonfire. Short, up north vacations are a staple in Michigan, at least for those of us in the suburban, metro area. If we could spend every weekend at the cottage, we’d do nothing else. What’s great about these trips with my particular friends is that we don’t just allow ourselves to become completely lazy; there’s a full kitchen to utilize and, no doubt, you’ll find us making anything from a huge breakfast feast to homemade, from-scratch calzones. And, while I love to take charge of cooking, it’s absolutely wonderful to have M’s parents along, allowing us to wake up to the sweet aroma of her mom’s French toast casserole and the savory goodness of her dad’s omelettes.

As Mom C said, “Place the pan on the counter top and magically people begin to descend from the upper level of the cottage and start to devour!” I mean, why even bother waking up unless we can immediately feast ourselves upon her casserole!? Dense, moist, and sweet with bites of crisp caramelized brown sugar, this bread pudding is undoubtedly addictive. I ate so much more than I could handle, I had to lay on my side for half an hour to settle my stomach! And when I felt okay again…I finished the few pieces I’d left on my plate 😉

I’ve wanted this recipe for years now, but of course, never remember to ask. I even tried to get my mom to help recreate it, but because I hadn’t realized, at the time, that it’s truly a bread pudding, my description kept getting lost in translation and all we could do is sadly fail. I just couldn’t have my baby shower brunch without it, though, so I finally remembered to get the recipe from Mom C! Two days later, here it is in my kitchen…doubled in size not only as a sure-fire test for the shower, but to give B. and I plenty of leftovers for freezing 🙂 It’s so simple, though, you could make this every weekend without feeling as if you’ve done any work. It will surely look like you did, though!

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