No, it’s not Christmas. But I was reminded of a favourite french toast bake while writing up my list of curated recipes. You need not use panettone, but gosh, yes, this fluffy Italian bread is perfect for dunking into french toast custard and then baking. You can use any soft bread like brioche or challah really, but you would need to soak these slightly denser breads a little longer in the custard batter.
Soft, eggy threads of sweet dough.
You get the rich flavour of panettone fixed in a homogenous, sweet, eggy batter similar to that of a firm bread pudding. I looked through previous recipes for panettone french toast and casseroles, and most of them use cream, but I personally don’t think you need the cream in the custard, and you let the flavours of the panettone and everything it’s studded with shine. Once again, a one-bowl wonder with everything done (and maybe consumed) in less than an hour. What I love about french toast bakes is that it takes little to no effort, as you chuck everything into the oven without having to fry each piece of bread separately, no matter how large a griddle or pan you have.
Mine here just had chocolate chips, but there’s usually some dried fruit in there too, and I added some chopped pecans on top for crunch. The french toast pudding bakes very fast because the voluminous, airy bread allows the custard to quickly seep into and bake into every crevice.
French toast pudding (6 servings)
Half a whole panettone (500g) or about 5 cups of challah/brioche, cut into large 2-inch cubes
240ml milk of choice
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp fine salt
optional: chopped nuts and extra chocolate chips, around 1/3 cup in volume
optional: coarse sugar (like demerara) for sprinkling, and fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream for serving
Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), no fan setting. Take a little cube of butter and rub it along the bottom, corners and and edges of a 9×11-inch casserole dish, or you could also squeeze it into a 9×9-inch brownie pan. Cut the half of a panettone into 1 inch thick slices. This will be easy if you’re using traditional uncut panettone, because then you can simply cut it as how you would a cake. If you’re using challah or brioche, or another type of light and fluffy bread, cut the bread into 2-inch cubes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, cinnamon and salt well.
Take each panettone slice and dunk each side in the custard for at least 3-4 seconds on each side, then lay the slices down in the prepared tin, each slice slightly overlapping one another. If you’re using other bread, just dunk each cube into the batter for 3-4 seconds before positioning the cubes in a relatively geometrical arrangement in the baking tin. Once the bread slices/cubes are arranged, pour the rest of the custard evenly all over the top, and if using, the chopped nuts and chocolate. Sprinkle the optional demerara sugar on top, then place the tin into the preheated oven.
Bake the french toast pudding for 15 minutes, take it out and serve immediately. Best eaten with fresh fruit, a la mode!