French Toast Pudding

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)

Ingredients

Half a whole panettone (500g) or about 5 cups of challah/brioche, cut into large 2-inch cubes

3 eggs

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

Directions

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!

15-minute French Toast Casserole

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This is for anyone who finds pleasure in breakfast bread pudding.

This is for anyone who, like me, thinks french toast makes the perfect pre-study whip-up.

This is for anyone who delights in obtaining 100% satisfaction with a dash of rustic decadence after a mere 15-20 minutes.

Ok, it’s for anyone. Make it. It’s just so dead easy. My sisters thanked me, and they’re pretty picky eaters.

I was thinking of what to make this morning with the leftover brioche we had– no, not the good, grand sort found in artisan bakeries, but the pre-sliced, white-as-ice, chemically-laden stuff (I’m cringing as I type) from the cheap side of Cold Storage. Yes. My friends, work with what you have. I did just that. No regrets whatsoever. Of course, use the good sort if you have it. You’ll probably get less of the ‘wobbliness’ post-bake, a less sloppy (though I enjoy the wild messiness of a lovely pudding consistency) underneath, with better form and a crust which doesn’t burn as easily as the one I made. It just so happens that the brioche I used was slightly stale after being left in our Cold Room for quite a bit, so it was the perfect alternative for something all lush and fluffy and swanky, or a day-old French loaf or baguette. Make do. Happiness awaits.

This french toast casserole is chimerical and childlike in flavour, bearing a modern sweetness with the addition of good quality maple syrup at the bottom of the pan, and a thick, swelling custard which renders the bread all nice and gooey after a generous soak and bake. Plump, fluffy, sweet and magnificently soft. Sweet eggy clouds hiding beneath a brown sugar-crusted toasty top. Topped with more maple syrup, double cream and berries. Oh, that glorious crust. I mentioned this is only 15 minutes right?

What I like about this is that it’s more of a base recipe than anything. Appropriate toppings cover a wide range– caramelised bananas, pineapple and blackberries, orange/lemon zest, apple chunks coated in cinnamon, and if you want, sprinkle on a good handful of small cream cheese cubes to add a little more zing and a dash of creaminess between each bite. The sole reason for my happiness right now is this french toast right here. No kidding.

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French Toast Casserole (serves 4-5)

Ingredients

3 and a half large, torn-up slices of brioche/ 2.5 cups of cubed bread of choice (sliced white/challah/French or Italian loaf/baguette)

3 eggs

1.5 cups whole milk

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp white sugar

2 tbsp light brown/ demerara sugar

1/3 cup good quality maple syrup (not Aunt Jemima’s this time)

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees C (that’s 428 degrees F), and grease an 8×8 inch pyrex dish, or any square brownie pan you have, with cooking spray. Pour the maple syrup into the dish and move it around a bit so it’s coated nicely on the bottom. For the custard, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, white sugar, salt, vanilla, cinnamon.

Place your bread into the dish with maple syrup. It can be random or if you’re one of those neat freaks, go ahead and place your neat little cubes in pretty little layers. Pour the custard on top and press the bread down so all surface area, including the top, is in contact with the egg mixture. The very top would not be soaking in the custard, though.

Sprinkle the two tablespoons of light brown/demerara sugar evenly over the top, to yield the wonderful, crisp top after baking. Place the pyrex dish into the middle of the preheated oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. Serve the casserole hot, drizzled with cold double cream, more maple syrup and berries. If it’s a dessert, please take out the best vanilla ice cream you have!

Of course, since this is my first time trying this 15-minute wonder, I cannot guarantee a perfect bake after this period of time for everyone, due to different ovens, climates and the sort of bread you use. If the top is not golden and there is too obvious a wobble when you shake the dish a little, give it another 5-10 minutes. Most recipes actually require 30-40 minutes of baking, but the volume of bread and custard here is smaller than a typical serving for 6-8 people, and I’m only using an 8×8-inch pyrex dish.

That being said, this recipe is extremely versatile, so just keep an eye on the browning process and make sure everything in the dish is lovingly soaked. For french toast is love in itself, isn’t it?