Sunday, February 3, 2008

Breakfast for Dinner: Stuffed French Toast

I want to apologize in advance for the lack of pictures in this post. I was already done making this by the time I realized that I wanted to blog about it...I guess I should start getting in the habit of taking pictures while I'm cooking on a regular basis.

Last night we had another Tech Chefs dinner. The group is a little smaller now than it was when it was at it's peak last year, and we've changed the format a bit. Someone is in charge of picking a theme, and we are now doing the dinner pot luck style. This month's theme was breakfast for dinner. It was a big hit! We started by toasting the evening with mimosas (don't worry, I had mine with ginger ale instead of champagne), and we made the bacon and sausage. When that was ready, we had our first course: a crab quiche that was AMAZING!! Unfortunately, I didn't make that one, so I don't have a recipe to post, but if I did, I would tell you to forget any dinner plans you might already have and just make this. It was that good!! Next up were the Eggs Benedict. Such a classic hardly needs elaboration! At the end of that course, I was just sopping up the extra hollandaise sauce with an English muffin. With so much butter, you can't go wrong.

Our dessert course was my original Stuffed Baked French Toast. I made 4 different flavors (peach, raspberry, blueberry, and apple), and it seemed like everyone had a different favorite. We pulled the breadmaker out so we could make the French toast with homemade bread. Mmmmmm....I loved having the house smell like fresh bread for 2 days straight!! It made me remember why we used to make homemade bread every week!

Three of the four fillings were cream cheese based. I mixed together softened cream cheese and sugar. If I were making this again (and for less than 8 people), I would use about 8 oz of cream cheese and 3/8 c. of sugar. This is enough to make the cream cheese a little sweeter, but not overly sweet! I divided my cream cheese filling into 3 bowls:

Bowl One: I added just over 1 c. of frozen raspberries, thawed and sprinkled with a little sugar. I mixed it together with a hint of cardamom, some cinnamon, and a sprinkling of nutmeg.

Bowl Two: I added about 1 c. of frozen blueberries, thawed and sprinkled with a little sugar. I mixed it together with about a 3:1 ratio of cinnamon:nutmeg. But I was eyeballing it, so don't quote me on it :-)

Bowl 3: I added about 1 c. of chopped peaches (canned), and sprinkled in some cinnamon, nutmeg, and a hint of ginger.

For the fourth filling I made an apple compote. I diced up an apple (peeled and cored) and sauteed it in about 2 Tbs. of butter, and added 2-3 Tbs. of regular sugar and 2-3 Tbs. brown sugar. I cooked it over medium heat until it was reduced quite a bit and thickened to a nice apple-pie-filling texture. Nice and sweet and sticky and gooey!

Now that you have your bread and filling, you can assemble your French toast. First, generously grease a 9 x 13 baking dish (or two depending on how big your bread is). Thickly slice your loaf of bread (about 1" - 1 1/4" thick). Using a serrated knife, cut a slit in the top of each slice of bread. The slit should be about 1 1/2" deep, or deeper. The bigger the pocket you make, the more filling you can fit in it :-). Spoon your filling into the pocket of your bread, and place it in the baking dish. Repeat for remaining bread slices.

Next, mix up the custard mixture. I used whole milks and eggs in a ratio of about 1 cup of milk to about 3 eggs. For a full 9 x 13 tray, you will probably need about 2 c. of milk and 6 eggs. Add a little bit of vanilla and couple of teaspoons of sugar and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Pour custard over bread slices, and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Flip slices over, and place in refrigerator for another 15-20 minutes, or until bread soaks up all the custard.

Once bread soaks up the liquid, sprinkle with a little bit of sugar (I like to use turbinado sugar for a nice little crunch), and bake at 400 F for about 25 minutes, or until cooked through. I served this with a choice of powdered sugar or maple syrup, though the French toast is sweet enough on it's own that very little of either is needed. Those who aren't pregnant enjoyed this breakfast dessert with some decaf spiked with a little Bailey's Irish cream liquor. It was a rich, filling, yummy end to a wonderful Breakfast-For-Dinner.

A few notes: If I make this again, I will choose only 1 kind of filling, as I have a fair amount of each kind left over (stay tuned for how those left overs will be used up...I have a fun idea!!). Also, this recipe could be simplified by using regular store bought sliced bread. Rather than cutting a slit in the slices, you can "sandwich" the filling a little bit by placing some of the filling on one slice, and then topping it with another. You can then treat the sandwiches just as you would the thick cut slices mentioned above. If you do make your own bread, I discovered by accident that if you use slightly less yeast than called for in the recipe (by about 1/4 tsp.), you get a denser loaf that is easier to slice pockets into. The one loaf I made that had the right amount of yeast tasted great, but since it was a lighter airier bread, it was more difficult to slice good pockets. And finally, the first time I experimented with this recipe, I used a loaf of challah bread, thickly sliced, and it made for WONDERFUL French toast!

If you are looking for a wonderful, over-indulgent breakfast, this is it!