The biggest food week of the year is here, but you might already be feeling overwhelmed.
Cooking breakfast for guests who are staying in your house can be a tricky affair. When you’re busy trying to make sure their stay is enjoyable, deciding which meals to make can be one of the more challenging pieces of the puzzle.
This week would be a good time to pull out those egg casseroles you might make at Easter or Christmas. But if you’re looking for a sweet dish to serve a small group at breakfast, check out this French toast bake from “Adventures in Slow Cooking: 120 Slow-Cooker Recipes for People Who Love Food” by Sarah DiGregorio (William Morrow Cookbooks, $24.99).
She uses challah, but you could use any kind of bread. I wouldn’t skip the pumpkin, though, because it adds moisture to what is essentially a bread pudding. Many slow cookers heat a little unevenly, so DiGregorio explains how to avoid accidentally burning one side of the dish by adding a foil collar around the base of the insert.
Pumpkin Challah French Toast Bake
This is basically a pumpkin pie breakfast bread pudding. It will not look pretty coming out of the slow cooker — don’t worry, a dusting of powdered sugar and a sprinkling of pecans do wonders.
— Sarah DiGregorio
1 challah loaf (10 to 12 ounces), cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks (about 9 cups)
6 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
Powdered sugar, for topping
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped, for topping
Pure maple syrup, for serving
If the bread is not already stale, heat the oven to 300 degrees. Spread the bread pieces on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until they are very dry and crisp, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker: Fold a large piece of foil into a 3-inch-by-12-inch strip and press it against the side of the insert that runs the hottest, using the foil like a collar or a shield. The hot spot is probably the wall of the insert farthest from the control panel. This will keep that side of the French toast from scorching or cooking too quickly. If your slow cooker runs very hot and tends to overbrown on all sides, line the other side with a foil collar as well.
Then line the entire insert with a piece of parchment, making sure the parchment comes up at least 2 inches on all sides. This is to prevent sticking and also to make it easier to reach in and remove the French toast. (You’re using 1 piece of parchment so that the egg mixture doesn’t run between 2 layers of parchment when you pour it in.)
Whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, granulated sugar, half-and-half, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Put the bread into the prepared cooker. Pour the egg mixture all over the bread, keeping all the liquid contained in the parchment liner and making sure all the bread gets moistened, pressing the bread down into the liquid if necessary. Cover and cook until the custard is just set: on high for 2 hours 30 minutes, on low for 4 hours, or on high for 1 hour 30 minutes followed by warm for 7 hours. Serves 6 to 8.
— From “Adventures in Slow Cooking: 120 Slow-Cooker Recipes for People Who Love Food” by Sarah DiGregorio (William Morrow Cookbooks, $24.99)