‘Tis the season for all things peppermint, ginger, cranberries, and panettone. What is panettone, you ask? Panettone is a light, flaky, buttery, italian bread with candied fruit and nuts, that fills grocery stores during the holiday season. The varieties and brands are endless but personally, I prefer panettone with raisins and candied fruit. I love that you can eat panettone by itself, because seriously, who doesn’t love carbs?! But it is AH-MAAAAZZZZ-ING, as french toast, because it’s DESSERT for BREAKFAST. I don’t ever need an excuse to eat dessert. Ever. No one should.
The panettone is loaded up with of chunks of semi-sweet chocolate. It soaks in a sweet custard overnight, where the bread soaks up all that vanilla liquid goodness. Right before it’s baked, the panettone french toast is topped with mountains of a crunchy pecan streusel topping, which will caramelize as it cooks. It’s baked until it is a crunchy, sweet, custardy, bready goodness. Basically, it’s the best thing since, well…sliced bread.
If you’ve ever had french toast, you know it’s best served hot. And if you’re serving a crowd, the person making the french toast (almost always me) is chained to the stove while everyone else is eating. Baking the french toast a la casserole solves that problem, making baked chocolate chunk panettone french toast the perfect make-ahead breakfast. Prep the custard and panettone the night before, make the streusel and store separately until it’s time to pop that baby in the oven, and 45 minutes in the oven in the morning and breakfast will be served. And if you’re ever so adventurous, serve it a la mode. Warm french toast with a scoop of cold, rich ice cream. Ice cream for breakfast because you’re a grown up and you get to make up the rules. Um, excuse me while I drool all over my keyboard.
Through the countless times I’ve made baked french toast, I’ve learned that the best results come from stale, dry bread. I like to leave the cubed bread out for a day, uncovered, before coating it with the custard. You can also spread the cubes in a single layer on cookie sheets and toast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, at 350 degrees F, until the bread is dry and toasted.
I cannot stress the importance of leaving the pecan streusel topping off until it’s time to put the french toast in the oven. Adding the streusel before “marinating” will allow the bread and the custard to soak up the butter and sugar, dissolving the mixture into the bread. So you can say buh-bye to that delicious, crunchy pecan heaven. And you don’t want to do that. So if you want to make the streusel in advance, go ahead and make it but store it separately, in an airtight container, in the fridge, until you bake the french toast.
I have made so many different versions of panettone french toast, I lost count. The chocolate chunk version doubles over as a bread pudding dessert. I made it for a dinner potluck once, with fresh whipped cream and berries, and it was the first dessert to disappear. My point is, whatever meal you eat it for, the important thing is, you EAT IT. and enjoy every. single. bite.
Once it’s out of the oven, dust with confectioner’s sugar, warm maple syrup, maybe some whipped cream and watch your guests devour the entire pan.
- 1 panettone loaf (1.5-2 lbs), trimmed and cubed into large pieces
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks
- 8 large whole eggs
- 2½ cups milk
- 2 tsp vanilla
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- streusel topping
- ¼ cup chopped pecans
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 5 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cubed
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- optional warm maple syrup, confectioner's sugar for dusting, fresh fruit, and/or whipped cream
- Grease a 9X13 pan and add in the cubed panettone. Add in chocolate chunks, spreading evenly.
- Prepare the custard. In a large bowl, beat eggs together, using a wire whisk. Stir in brown sugar and vanilla. Slowly whisk in milk. Add in salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.
- Pour custard over bread and chocolate. Let soak for at least half an hour. For best results refrigerate overnight.
- Make the pecan streusel topping. In a medium bowl, mix together sugar, cinnamon, and flour. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, blend in butter until the mixture resembles coarse pebbles. Fold in pecans using a spatula. If making ahead, store separately, in an airtight container, in the fridge until ready to use.
- Remove french toast from refrigerator and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Top the french toast with the streusel topping, spreading evenly.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes, until custard is cooked and streusel is golden brown.
- Dust with confectioner's sugar if desired and serve hot.
- Serve with warm maple syrup, fresh fruit and whipped cream if desired.