How do you make a big, bold, savory French toast even bigger, bolder and more savory? Instead of building it a slice at a time, you build it by the loaf.
My inspiration was a pillow-soft loaf of unsliced sandwich bread. Looking at it, I wondered what would happen if instead of cutting it into traditional slices and frying it a piece at a time — or even assembling it in a layer as a casserole — I instead cut the entire loaf horizontally into a few thick planks, stuffed it, then reassembled it in a loaf pan.
This recipe is the delicious result of that wondering.
Since French toast is such a perfect fall dinner — warm and comforting — I kept the fillings savory with ham, cheddar cheese and turkey. But if you'd rather go sweet, you could substitute jam, peanut butter, cream cheese, fresh berries, even chocolate chips.
While this dish can be assembled and immediately baked, it is even better if you give it time to soak. You can assemble it the night before, then refrigerate until the following day an hour before dinner. Just pop it in the oven when you get home from work.
HAM AND CHEESE STUFFED FRENCH TOAST LOAF
When selecting your bread, first take a look at the loaf pan you plan to use. You'll want a loaf that fits comfortably in your pan with a little wiggle room. If you can only find loaves that are too big, just use a serrated knife to trim the loaf to fit before beginning the recipe.
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (10 minutes active)
1 loaf white sandwich bread, not sliced
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 ounces deli sliced ham
8 ounces deli sliced turkey breast
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
If baking right away, heat the oven to 400 F. Coat a deep loaf pan with baking spray.
Use a bread knife to cut the loaf horizontally into thirds, creating bottom, middle and top layers. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, thyme, salt and pepper. Place the bottom layer of the bread in the prepared loaf pan. Drizzle about a third of the egg mixture evenly over the bread, then use a fork to gently press the bread all over to help it absorb the liquid.
Arrange half of the ham in an even layer over the bread. Top the ham with half of the turkey, followed by half of the cheese. Place the middle section of the bread over the ingredients, then use your hand to gently compress the bread and fillings. Drizzle another third of the egg mixture over the middle layer of bread, then press it gently with a fork to help it absorb the liquid.
Repeat the layering of ham, turkey and cheese, then top with the final layer of bread. Compress the bread and fillings as before, then carefully pour the remaining egg mixture over the top. Some will run down the sides between the bread and the pan; this is fine. Press the top of the bread with a fork the help it absorb the liquid.
Scatter the Parmesan cheese over the top of the loaf. Coat a sheet of foil with cooking spray, then use it to cover the pan. The stuffed French toast can be baked immediately, or refrigerated overnight.
When ready to bake, set the pan on the oven's middle rack and bake for 1 hour, or until it reaches 155 F at the centre. Uncover the pan and bake for another 5 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.
To serve, cut the loaf into thick slices as you would a pound cake.
Nutrition information per serving: 250 calories; 100 calories from fat (40 per cent of total calories); 11 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 110 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 19 g protein; 1,040 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org