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.
Baked French Toast with Caramelized Pears and Hazelnuts
7-8 Cups french or sour dough bread (about one large loaf) or baguette or brioche ( see below)
2 bosc pears
1/2 C toasted hazelnuts, crushed
2 1/2 cups half and half ( or whole milk)
1/2 C real maple syrup (divided)
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 vanilla bean ( or 1 tsp vanilla)
2 T butter
Zest of one small orange
Preheat oven to 350F
9 x 13 inch pan -serves 6
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 2 1/2 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 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. Set aside.
Cut bread in to 1/2 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, unless you want 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 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.
Thomas Keller’s Brioche Recipe from Ad Hoc at Home
Warning: Read the whole recipe before starting…it requires two 3 hour rising periods plus overnight in refrigerator.
1/3 cup very warm water (110-115 degrees)
One 1/4-oz. package (2-1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2-1/2 cups cake flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel or fine sea salt
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2-1/2 sticks (10 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes at room temperature
Combine the water and yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes, then stir until the yeast is completely dissolved. Set aside.
Sift together the flours, sugar and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the eggs and beat for 1 minute at low speed, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed. Slowly add the dissolved yeast and continue beating at low speed for 5 minutes. Stop the machine, scrape any dough off the dough hook, and beat for another 5 minutes.
Add the butter cubes, about one-quarter of them at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each addition. Once all the butter has been added, beat for 10 minutes more, until the dough is smooth and silky.
Transfer the dough to a large floured bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 3 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a generously floured work surface and gently work out the air bubbles by folding the dough over several times while lightly pressing down on it. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
Generously butter two loaf pans. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. With floured hands, divide the dough in half, shape it into 2 rectangles that fit into the loaf pans, and put the dough in the pans. Let the dough rise, uncovered, in a warm place until it is about 1/2 inch above the top of the pans, about 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350-degrees.
Bake the brioche until it is well browned on top and sounds hollow when tapped, 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately turn the brioche out onto a cooling rack.
If serving immediately, let the bread cool for 10 minutes, then slice. If serving within a few hours or up to 2 days, promptly wrap the hot bread in aluminum foil and set aside at room temperature until ready to use. To freeze, wrap the hot bread in foil and promptly freeze. The bread can be frozen for up to 2 months; when ready to use, reheat, un-thawed in the foil, in a 250-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.