Recipe and photos courtesy of Guest Food Writer, Mike Tran*
The burning question that was keeping me awake last night was this: Are bread pudding and baked French toast that same thing?! Would you be questioned for eating one over the other for breakfast ( ie, "Are you having DESSERT for breakfast??")
In an effort to answer this nagging question – okay…maybe just a nagging question to me – I did a deep dive into this mystery when I couldn’t sleep on a Sunday night. At about midnight, I got back up and got to my happy place; THE KITCHEN!
I’d bought this magnificent Challah loaf from a newly discovered bakery in the heart of St. Paul on Friday. As a side note, if you have not discovered La Boulangerie Marguerite on Randolph (the old PJ Murphy’s Bakery location), do yourself a favor, and TREAT yourself to their breads and coffees and cronuts and macarons! The loaf sat on my counter over the weekend as I’d originally thought about making traditional French toast but never got around to it.
As the weekend came to a close, I knew I’d have to go to my Plan B: BAKED FRENCH TOAST, a cousin to the more universally popular dish, bread pudding. But while similar in their ingredient base, they stand on their own with unique identities!
For this creation, I envisioned blending two key flavors; vanilla and orange. And after some taste testing this morning in my office, it’s a unanimous conclusion – IT WORKS!
So – here is my recipe creation with a couple of notes:
- Once you mix the cubed bread with your egg and milk mixture, store it OVERNIGHT in the BOWL you mixed it in. This allows all of the liquid to get absorbed, eliminating the “pooling” of unsoaked liquid you’d get if you just mixed it and poured it into your 13x9 pan to bake it right away. This pooling can cause uneven baking, or worse – a mushy uncooked center!
- Use a GOOD LOAF of bakery quality bread. Unsliced is best so that you can get good thick cuts (think 1” cubes). You want a sturdy loaf that will stand up to the moisture and not disintegrate. My favorites are Challah, Brioche, and just a plain French Bread.
1-1/2 to 2# (Challah) loaf, cut into 1” cubes
2 c. milk (2% or whole – avoid skim or 1%)
½ c. heavy cream
2/3 c. sugar
Zest and juice from 1 large orange
2 tsp PURE vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
2/3 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. unsalted butter, cold and diced
½ c. flour
½ c. chopped pecans or walnuts
Dash of salt
Place your cubed bread in a large bowl. Set aside. Blend remaining ingredients until frothy and well combined. Pour over your bread cubes and GENTLY fold to coat all of the bread well. Cover and refrigerate OVERNIGHT. This is key – you want all of the liquid to be absorbed. Mix the 5 topping ingredients with a pastry cutter (or pulse in a food processor until crumbly). Store in the refrigerator overnight until you’re ready to bake!
When you’re ready to bake, preheat over to 350 and butter a 13x9 pan (I recommend a NON-glass pan). Like my previously posted Rhubarb Bread Pudding recipe, create a water bath by placing your 13x9 pan into a deep cookie sheet and fill with water to aid in the baking process. Give your bowl of soaked bread one more mix before pouring into your prepared baking pan. Top with crumbled topping and bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes. Serve warm with pure maple syrup and a dollop of crème fraiche!
So in conclusion – the difference between bread pudding and baked French toast? The finishing topping! Bread pudding gets bourbon caramel sauce and possibly a scoop of vanilla ice cream while baked French toast gets syrup! Case closed.
About the Author:
Mike grew up in the Mac/Groveland neighborhood of Saint Paul until second grade (a Nativity kid!). This part of Saint Paul has always stayed close to his heart and he loves to frequent neighborhood establishments as much as he can. Though a professional photographer by trade, Mike has always had a second passion in the kitchen.
Creating recipes and things from scratch have always been a love. At the recommendation of several friends and family, Mike decided to blog about his creations on his newly formed Facebook page! This has also forced him to actually write things down for a change, so he can share recipes instead of saying, “I don’t know… I just made it from scratch!”
You can read more of Mike's creative endeavors at: Mike's Kitchen Creations | Facebook