Caramelized Pear French Toast Casserole
Recipe by Sarah Phillips and Kelly Hong; Food styling and photos by Kelly Hong © 9-30-2013 Sarah Phillips CraftyBaking.com
This scrumptious brunch (or breakfast!) dish is perfect for an autumn or holiday gathering, and is a great time-saver because you can assemble the whole thing the night before and then just bake it the next morning. It's also a gorgeous presentation, making it a delicious choice for a special event.
We like to bake ours in our favorite red 4-quart Le Creuset Heritage Oval Covered Casserole; Le Creuset is who we did this recipe for. It's perfect because it is not only pretty but also nice and heavy, which allows the custard to bake gently and evenly. And you can serve it directly from the baking dish.
If you like, you can make the casserole the same day, as long as you let it rest in the refrigerator for a few hours before baking so the bread can fully soak up the custardy goodness. If you like, use apples instead of pears. Drizzle it with maple syrup and top with a dollop of whipped cream. Since this is essentially a bread pudding, you can serve this as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Delicious!
CUSTARD RECIPE HELP
Kelly used scalloped slices of bread on top so the final presentation is simply stunning. She also shows you how to layer the bread pieces so the casserole bakes evenly and will not fall apart when served.
2 1/2 pounds of ripe but firm pears; about 5 large pears-we used Anjou pears
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
French Toast and Custard:
14 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of salt
Unsalted butter, softened; for greasing casserole dish
2 pounds sliced cinnamon swirl bread; we used 2 1-pound Pepperidge Farms pre-sliced loaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
KELLY SAYS: I have a HUGE Anjou pear tree in my backyard, and the sun-ripened pears were just calling to me.
STEP I: CARAMELIZE THE PEARS
1. Peel, core and chop the pears into a large irregular cubes. For more baking help, go to Pears - How to Cube
2. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the butter to the pan.
When the butter has melted, add the pears, then add the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.
3. Cook the pears, stirring occasionally, until the moisture cooks off and they start to caramelize on the edges. This will take 8-12 minutes.
Do not overcook the pears. You do not want to cook them until they start to fall apart!
4. Spread the pears out on a rimmed baking sheet to cool.
STEP II: MAKE THE EGG CUSTARD MIXTURE
While the pears cool, make the custard.
1. Add the eggs to a large bowl and whisk to break up the yolks.
2. Add the milk, vanilla, salt and spices and whisk to combine.
3. Set aside momentarily.
STEP III: ASSEMBLE THE CASSEROLE.
1. Generously butter your casserole.
2. Fit the bottom of the casserole with the bread slices, cutting them, to fit them snugly in the pan.
3. Lightly brush the bread with the melted butter, then sprinkle evenly with about a tablespoon of the brown sugar.
4. Ladle on about a cup of the custard mixture, then spread it with a spoon, so all the bread is moistened.
5. Scatter 1/2 of the cooled caramelized pear mixture over the bread, and spread it out evenly.
6. Add another layer of bread slices and repeat the melted butter and brown sugar steps above.
7. Ladle on another cup of the custard mixture, being careful to moisten all the bread slices.
8. Add the remaining pears to the pan, and spread them out in an even layer.
9. Cut 12 of the remaining slices of bread into rounds with a 3.5-inch cookie cutter.
NOTE: This step is optional. You may use full slices for the top of the casserole, but it sure looks pretty this way.
10. Starting at one end, place one of the rounds onto the top of the casserole, then lightly brush with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.
11. For the second row, add two rounds, overlapping the first row.
Repeat the butter and brown sugar process.
12. The third and 4th row have three bread rounds each.
Repeat the steps above with the melted butter and brown sugar.
13. As the oval shape of the pan narrows again, the 5th row of bread only has two rounds.
repeat the steps with the butter and brown sugar.
14. The last row has one round, just like the first.
Repeat the steps with the butter and brown sugar.
15. Ladle the remaining custard mixture over the completed casserole, making sure that all the bread is evenly moistened.
16. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to the bread, then cover the pan with the lid.
Place the pan in the refrigerator to rest, at least three hours, or overnight.
STEP IV: BAKE AND SERVE. STORAGE.
1. A few hours later, or the next morning, uncover the casserole, and remove the plastic wrap. By this time, all the custard mixture should have been soaked up by the bread.
Let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes, while you position an oven shelf to the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325 degrees F.
NOTE: If using a casserole dish that is heavy, such as a Le Creuset or a Pyrex glass one, heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Otherwise, heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Bake the casserole for about an hour, or until a knife poked in the center of the casserole comes out clean, or with a few moist bread crumbs, but not liquidy custard, and the temperature reads 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer.
The edges on the bread will be golden brown, and the top will look dry.
Set on a wire cake rack.
3. If desired, brush the top of the casserole with maple syrup, to give it a little sheen.
4. Let the casserole sit on the wire cake rack for about ten minutes before serving.
You may cut the Caramelized Pear French Toast Casserole into portions with a knife, or use a spoon to scoop it out of the pan, for a more relaxed and rustic presentation.
Serve with warmed maple syrup and a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
After baking, store the baked casserole in the refrigerator for a few days. The servings can be warmed in the microwave under low power, the time depending on the portion size.