French toast made with challah is a regular weekend occurrence at my house. (Does that surprise you?) The stores near me typically stock a fresh supply of the eggy, braided bread on Fridays for the Jewish Sabbath so I pick one up then - whole-wheat when I can find it - and save most of the loaf for breakfast over the next day or so.
Brioche has a similar texture that also works well for the accompanying recipe, in case that is more readily available. Either bread is heavenly simply dipped in a mixture of egg, milk and vanilla extract, then skillet-cooked with a sprinkle of cinnamon until golden brown outside and warmed through. When you go easy on the butter and maple syrup and add fresh fruit, the dish can be healthful and balanced.
But when I want to take breakfast to the next level, I stuff the bread first. By cutting extra-thick pieces, I can easily slice a little pocket into each one to be filled with all sorts of goodies. I often go with a creamy element that melts lusciously as the toast cooks through, chopped nuts or seeds for crunch, and some kind of seasonal produce - typically fruit. In the summer I might do a combination of ricotta cheese, strawberries and almonds. But fall just begs for pumpkin. So here, I spread a mixture of whipped cream cheese, pure pumpkin puree and warm, sweet spices in the bread pocket, then filled it further with chopped nuts, saving some to sprinkle on top at the end.
The result is a weekend treat worth cozying up at home for, full of autumnal flavor and just rich enough to hit the spot, yet still in the good-for-you zone.
Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast
1/2 cup pecan or walnut pieces
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, plus more for serving
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch ground cloves
1/2 cup low-fat milk (1 percent)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Four 1-inch thick slices challah bread, preferably whole-wheat (6 ounces total; may substitute brioche)
Oil or butter, for coating the pan
Toast the nuts in a large, dry nonstick skillet over a medium-low heat, until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan a few times to avoid scorching. Transfer them to a cutting board to cool, then coarsely chop.
Stir together the cream cheese, pumpkin puree, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and the cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt in a bowl, until smooth.
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Whisk together the milk, eggs and vanilla extract in a shallow baking dish or wide bowl, until well incorporated.
Slice each piece of bread almost all the way in half, leaving one side intact, to form a pocket. Spread one-fourth of the cream cheese mixture in each bread pocket, then stuff each of the pockets with a scant tablespoon of the toasted chopped nuts and press lightly to seal.
Brush the same skillet with oil or coat it lightly with butter then heat it over medium heat.
Dip each piece of stuffed bread into the milk-egg mixture until well coated, then place in the skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until golden brown and warmed throughout the middle. Discard any remaining egg mixture.
Serve warm, drizzled with maple syrup and topped with the remaining nuts.