We’ve been more regular about celebrating Shabbat on Friday nights over the past year. My Friiday night menus rarely really go with challah though, so we often end up most of a loaf left over. This is no cause for sadness though, because challah (along with its kissing-cousin, brioche) makes the finest French toast imaginable. The bread is already eggy, so the addition of a custard takes it over the top.
I remembered reading about a variation of French toast where you slice the bread, soak it in the custard in a casserole or on a baking sheet, and then simply throw it in the over instead of cooking on a griddle. This is a great way to turn it into a do-ahead item for a brunch with guests. I made that a few times and loved it too, and that got me thinking that there really isn’t much of a distinction between French toast and bread pudding, except that the bread is diced. So for the past few weeks, the challah has found itself cubed and soaked, baked off in the morning and devoured.
Of course once you are working the bread pudding vein, now you have a full range of flavoring possibilities. The recipe below is basic, with just vanilla and cinnamon. But you could add roasted pears and brown sugar, or apples and maple syrup, or orange zest and a bit of triple sec, for example. Or you could serve it with ice cream and go straight to dessert land. Cut out a circle and fry in butter for decadence. Or reduce the sweetness and go savory with, say manchego and smoked paprika. The options are endless.
Proportions in the recipe below are approximate, because it really depends on how much bread you have, how stale it is, and so forth. Just pour the custard on a bit at a time and you can stop when the bread is quite wet throughout, or mix up a bit more if needed. It should be the texture of French toast before cooking.
Oh, and because challah is typically braided, it is hard to remove all the crust without wasting too much. Just do the best you can, a little crust in the there won’t bother anyone.
Challah French Toast Bread Pudding
Vegetarian; not vegan or gluten-free
- most of 1 loaf of challah or brioche, most of the crust removed, cut into large cubes (about 1.5″)
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 2 cups milk (or buttermilk is good too)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla, or seeds scraped from one fresh vanilla bean
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons sugar (or honey, or sweetener of your choice)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Butter a large casserole and fill with the bread.
- Whisk the milk, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and sugar into the eggs.
- Pour the custard mixture over the bread and toss.
- Refrigerate overnight. This might not be all that necessary, but I haven’t tried skipping it. It would probably be fine.
- Preheat the oven to 375 F. Give the bread mixture one more toss with a light touch, trying to “fluff” it up a bit. Bake until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted in several spots comes out dry (an internal temperature of about 190 F. is good). This will probably take about 45 minutes.
- Optionally sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. Maple syrup is good too.