Pumpkin Cinnamon Overnight Pull-Apart French Toast with Vanilla Maple Butter
If a crockpot is the equivalent of a set-it-and-forget-it dinner solution, this is the parallel equivalent for breakfast.
I’m an advocate of as little as humanly possible to do in the morning and this is a recipe that even I can pull off when I’m bleary-eyed because the work is done the night before.
And ‘work’ is a very loose term because there’s hardly any involved.
Coffee is my usual breakfast of champions and the last thing on my mind on a busy weekday morning when I’m making sure shoelaces are double-knotted and hair is un-knotted is making French toast or pancakes. Cereal, without spilling the milk, is all we can muster here and still get out of the house on time. If you’re one of those people who makes French toast on weekday mornings, please come to my house because I need your help.
On weekends I still don’t feel very inspired to make a big breakfast because big breakfasts usually mean big kitchen cleanup and I’d rather just not. Until this French toast came along.
The afternoon or evening before you plan to serve it, make a marinade of melted butter, pumpkin puree, two eggs, cream, sugars, maple syrup, vanilla, and spices including cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and cloves, and give it a stir. It’s the best looking and best smelling orange soup out there. I wanted to drink it as a smoothie.
To the marinade, add diced pieces of your bread-baking fails. You know, those hard, dense, hockey puck-like loaves of bread that you’ve been making in your bread-baking experiments that for some reason didn’t quite rise as nicely as planned or were as dense as two hundred year old tree trunks. Feel free to use those. Or feel free to use all the good bread you’ve successfully made. I have lots of that too. It’s been a real carbfest and I needed to find a way to use some of it.
Or, simply buy a one-pound loaf of French bread, a crusty baguette, or a hearty bread from your grocer’s deli and slice about 12 ounces of it, about three-quarters of the loaf, into chunky cubes about two-inches in size. Don’t slice the cubes too small because they need to be large enough and have enough surface area that the marinade doesn’t transform them into a mushy mess overnight.
Do not try this with the equivalent of white Wonder bread. The bread needs to be a hearty, dense, substantially-textured loaf. Stale bread is perfectly acceptable and almost preferred because that renders the bread capable of absorbing all the glorious drippy, saucy, sweet pumpkin and cinnamon-spiced marinade without disintegrating.
Toss the bread chunks until they’re all coated and it will seem that the bread is literally drowning in marinade and that there will be no possible way all the liquid will ever be absorbed. Well, bread gets very thirsty overnight and does a marvelous job of drinking up while it waits for you in the covered bowl in your refrigerator until morning when it’s time to bake it.
In the morning, transfer the drenched bread chunks into a lined 9-by-9-inch pan. I always line my pans with foil to save on cleanup. Making anything other than grapes for breakfast is already taxing enough and the last thing I want to do is stubborn dishes when I can just lift out one piece of foil and pitch it when I’m through.
When the bread pieces are in the pan, lightly smoosh them down with a spatula, making sure there aren’t any pieces with corners that are jutting up significantly higher than the other pieces, as those edges and corners will have a tendency to burn so try to keep everything about the same height. Alternatively, the bread cubes can be packed down tightly and this will turn pull-apart bread into its denser cousin, bread pudding.
Bake it for about a half hour but don’t overbake it. When it’s done, the surface of the bread will still appear moist and a bit on the juicy side with some glistening surfaces and not all dried out. The point of marinating meat is to keep it juicy and tender while it cooks and the same goes for the bread. The French toast doesn’t taste nearly as good when it’s been overbaked and becomes too hardened and dry.
While the French toast is baking, make the vanilla maple butter by melting butter, and feel free to use browned butter for an extra layer of flavor. Whisk the melted butter together with maple syrup and vanilla extract, and prior to pouring it over your golden pumpkin-kissed bread chunks, reheat the mixture gently in the microwave for a few seconds if necessary if you like your syrup warmed like I do. The vanilla maple butter makes the already tender and saucy bread chunks even more irresistible.
Although some may not feel it necessary to add a buttery syrup to this pull-apart bread, everything tastes better drenched with additional butter, maple syrup, and vanilla. You’ll likely never go back to plain Jane maple syrup after trying this syrup because the slight saltiness from the butter rounds out the sweetness from the maple, and combined with the vanilla infusion, it’s just a beautiful thing.
This French toast is everything I could want in French toast. The marinade took about ninety seconds to whisk together and there was no active work at the stovetop flipping French toast over and risking grease burns on my wrists. I avoid frying whenever possible since between the stink and the grease burns on my forearms, nothing good ever comes from it for me.
What I loved most about this French toast was how moist it was after it had all night to soak up and bathe in the marinade. Dry toast, dry bread, dry desserts, dry anything is never a good situation and this situation was dripping with juicy pumpkin puree, sweet maple syrup, and the brown sugar caramelized while it baked, adding another dimension. Between the maple syrup in the marinade that’s baked into the bread and then the vanilla maple butter that engulfs it after baking, I was in sticky, sweet, maple syrupy heaven.
The warming spices of cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and cloves complemented the pumpkin and maple and each bite had a distinctive cinnamon-sugar quality, which I loved. I went heavy-handed on the cinnamon so that it wouldn’t get lost in a sea of other competing flavors, but scale it or the pumpkin pie spice back a bit if you’re not as much of a cinnamon fiend as I am.
One thing I didn’t go heavy-handed on was the eggs. I have seen recipes for overnight bakes that call for a half dozen eggs, or more, and although that’s fine for some people, someone in our house has to watch his cholesterol and I kept the eggs to just two. Plus, I wanted baked French toast, not baked eggs.
The chunky pieces of bread that I could pull apart, one by one, made me reach for one more piece, and one more piece. It’s the French toast equivalent of monkey bread. Keep the napkins handy and embrace the sticky chunks.
Between the maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon-sugar, and the sweet perfume of baking pumpkin, my house smelled so fabulous that the family set up camp in the kitchen waiting for this to emerge hot from the oven.
A marinade of pumpkin puree, maple syrup, cinnamon, sugar, and spices coats chunky cubes of bread overnight. Baking it off the next morning is as simple as pie. Or as simple as pull-apart French Toast. The resulting French toast is moist and tender, and bursting with pumpkin, cinnamon, and fall flavors. The vanilla and butter-infused maple syrup poured over the top makes it even better.
For the French Toast
about 8 cups bread, diced in 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces, or about 12 ounces (French bread, a French Baugette, or a crusty and hearty bakery-style bread is necessary; something that can stand up to overnight soaking without disintegrating)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup milk or cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
For the Vanilla Maple Butter (double the batch if you love syrup)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the French Toast - In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute. I prefer to brown the butter by heating for about 3 minutes on high power until the crackling and popping has subsided, the butter browned and nutty-smelling; being careful not to burn it browning butter tips here. Allow the butter to cool momentarily so you don't scramble the eggs.
Add all remaining ingredients to the butter, except for the bread, and whisk until smooth and combined. Add the bread cubes and toss gently to coak. Cover with plastic wrap and place bowl in the refrigerator overnight, or at least two hours so the bread has time to absorb the marinade.
Before baking, preheat oven to 350F and line a 9-by-9-inch pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Transfer bread into baking pan, leaving it fairly loosely piled in the baking pan. Watch any bread corners that are jetting up much higher than the rest of the pieces as they will have a tendency to burn more easily so I push any of them down with a spatula so all pieces are roughly the same height. Scrape out any marinade in the bottom of the bowl and pour that over the bread. Bake for about 30 to 38 minutes, or until golden and browned, the marinade has dried out some, taking care not to overbake as you want this moist and coating does not have to be bone dry on all piece. Serve immediately with a pat of butter, warm maple syrup, a dusting of confectioners' sugar, or vanilla maple butter. Store extra French Toast in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, reheat gently in the microwave prior to serving.
For the Vanilla Maple Butter - In a medium microwave-safe bow, melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power; or brown it by heating for about 3 minutes. To the melted butter, add the maple syrup, and whisk vigorously until combined. Heat for about 30 seconds to warm the mixture and add the vanilla and whisk to combine. Pour over French Toast. Extra syrup may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
To keep vegan, use vegan butter in place of all butter and use two flax eggs in place of the eggs. To keep gluten-free, use a hearty gluten-free bread. Take care all ingredients used are suitable for your dietary needs.
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Do you have a favorite French Toast recipe? Or monkey bread or pull-apart bread recipe?
Feel free to link up your favorites.
I’m not much of a pancake maker because my last pancake recipe (vegan, GF) was almost 3 years ago but I am feeling so inspired on all things bread-making.
Thanks for the entries in the two giveaways and have a great week!