This can be made in a baking dish, a large cast iron skillet, or even individual oven proof ramekins or bowls.
Use left over bread, french bread or baguettes, or for an extra special touch make brioche ( see recipe below).
For extra flavor, infuse the cream with real vanilla. With a sharp knife, split a vanilla bean down the center and scrape out the tiny seeds and place but he the seeds and pod in small pan of half and half. Warm on the stove.
I used bosc pears, but really any pear would work great.
Caramelize the pears in a skillet with butter and at the end add a splash of maple syrup. This gives the french toast a little depth.
Make the batter with eggs and half and half, nutmeg, and cardamon. Adding a little orange zest to the batter brightens the dish.
Arrange bread, caramelized pears and hazelnuts in a baking dish and pour batter over top, being sure to get in between all the cracks and crevices.
Its important to let the bread have some time to soak up the batter. You could do all of this the night before and refrigerate. Or let stand 30 minutes, before baking.
One of the wonderful things about this dish is how your house will smell when you pull it out of the oven.
- 7-8 Cups french or sour dough bread (about one large loaf) or baguette or brioche ( see below)
- 2 ripe bosc pears
- ½ C toasted hazelnuts, crushed
- 7 eggs
- 2½ cups half and half ( or use whole milk)
- ½ C real maple syrup (divided)
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp cardamom
- 1 vanilla bean ( or 1 tsp vanilla)
- 2 T butter
- Zest of one small orange
- Preheat oven to 350F
- Toast hazelnuts 10-15 mins, let cool, and gently crush ( using a rolling pin).
- Split vanilla bean, scrape out seeds and place directly in a small sauce pan with 2½ C half and half. Add the remaining vanilla pod. Warm up the half and half and vanilla on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost to a boil. Turn heat off and let cool and seep 20-30 minutes.
- Slice the pears.
- Melt 2 T butter in a skillet and sauté pears on medium heat until golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add 1 T maple syrup. Simmer for a few more minutes, allowing them to caramelize. Set aside.
- Cut bread in to ½ inch slices. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, salt, spices, orange zest and 3 T maple syrup. When half and half has cooled, remove vanilla pod, and add a little at time into the egg mixture, mixing it together. (Do NOT add hot cream to the egg mixture, it may cause your eggs to curdle. Either let the cream cool, or temper the eggs, by adding just a little warm cream at a time, mixing in-between... so the eggs gradually warm up.)
- Generously butter a 9x 13 inch baking dish. Layer bread, hazelnuts, and caramelized pears pouring all the buttery syrup from the pan evenly over the bread. Pour batter over, using a spatula to ensure it goes in all the cracks crevasses. Let sit at least 30 minutes, so bread can soak up batter, or refrigerate overnight. Right before placing in the oven, drizzle the top with 1 more T maple syrup and sprinkle with a pinch of cardamon. Bake 45-50 minutes until puffed and golden. If your layers measure higher than two inches, you may need to bake longer. Check the middle to see if all the liquid is cooked. I have found that the true test is, if it puffs up, it is done. Melt small dots butter over the top and serve with warm maple syrup.