There are some major misconceptions about brunch, like that it’s just an excuse for people to drink mimosas and bloody marys before noon. And, well, yes — but the drinks are only the third-best thing about brunch.
Obviously if we’re discussing the merits of this late-morning, early-afternoon, weekend-only occasion, we have to address the very best things about it. No. 1: bacon as a side, no matter what you have ordered, since it is the official liaison between sweet and savory foods.
The No. 2 reason that brunch is the best: dessert for breakfast. Monday through Friday, breakfast should be wholesome, nutrient-filled foods to power you through your day. But on the weekends, brunch menus all over the world are offering us many shapes of cake to break the fast, and it’s just not a fair test of any person’s willpower.
So if we’re all going to agree that once in a while a cake covered in maple syrup is breakfast, then we ought to be prepared with the very best recipe for our at-home brunching occasions. And for that, The Culinary Institute of America has you covered. But you have to pinky swear to eat something full of whole grains and fruit for breakfast on Monday.
Pumpkin spice is a divisive subject, but whether or not you want it in your coffee (or lip balm), you need a little bit of pumpkin to officially ring in the season. So what better way to pumpkin-ify your life than with a delightfully decadent dessert-turned-breakfast?
For this Pumpkin Bread French Toast, we’ve reverse-engineered a pumpkin bread pudding, which is really just reverse-engineered French toast. First we start with the best pumpkin bread you’ll ever make (and that is still super quick and easy). It’s then sliced, lightly dried, and dunked in a maple-egg mixture.
After a quick cook, it is creamy, dense, and just sweet enough to make you feel like you’re breaking the rules. You can pair it with maple syrup, if you like, but if you’re going to go for it, you should really go for it. We’re including a recipe for our favorite Bourbon Creme Anglaise.
This French dessert sauce is also known as vanilla sauce, and as students in the CIA’s baking and pastry arts degree program will tell you, it’s closely related to a lot of familiar desserts. Baked, and you’ve got a creme brulee. Frozen, and it’s vanilla ice cream. Add a little cornstarch and some elbow grease, and you made pastry cream (or vanilla pudding!). It’s easy to make, but you’ll just want to be careful as you add the hot liquid to your egg mixture. If you don’t whisk enough, the eggs will cook, leaving you scrambled eggs. If you have an issue, just strain them out.
We’ve added bourbon to this vanilla sauce, because its rich caramel flavor is perfectly paired with the pumpkin and maple. If that’s not up your alley, CIA Chef Genevieve Meli has some tips. “You can flavor your custard by infusing the hot milk with spices or teas before incorporating the eggs. You can even add melted chocolate (off the heat, so it doesn’t burn) to the finished sauce for a chocolate variation.” Chocolate sauce sounds like the perfect brunch accessory.
Pumpkin Bread French Toast
Start to finish: 4 hours (Active time: 40 minutes)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin purée
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup unsweetened pumpkin purée
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Confectioners’ sugar, as needed
1/2 cup dried fruits, like cranberries and golden raisins
Spiced Crème Anglaise (recipe below), for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-in by 5-in loaf pan with butter and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the 4 tablespoons butter, sugar, and vegetable oil. Mix on medium speed, scraping the bottom of the bowl occasionally, until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add the pumpkin and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated each time and scraping the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture and mix just until combined, about 30 seconds.
Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 60 to 75 minutes. Place the pan on a cooling rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.
To prepare the French toast, preheat the oven to 300 F. Slice the pumpkin bread into 10 slices and place on a baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake until the bread has dried out slightly, flipping once during cooking, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, milk, pumpkin, maple syrup, salt, and cinnamon in a shallow dish.
Once the bread has cooled slightly, melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Working in batches, soak the sliced bread in the egg mixture until it softens slightly, about 20 seconds per side. The bread is very absorbent, so be careful not to oversoak or it will fall apart.
Transfer to the hot pan and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Lower the heat as needed to prevent browning.
Transfer to a serving platter as done, dust with confectioners’ sugar, and garnish with dried fruit. Serve right away with crème anglaise.
Bourbon Creme Anglaise
Makes about 2 cups
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar (divided use)
4 large egg yolks
1 to 2 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
Combine the milk, cream, vanilla bean, and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Prepare an ice bath if you plan to serve the sauce cooled. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the egg yolks. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Temper the eggs by gradually adding about one-third of the hot cream mixture, whisking constantly. Add the remaining cream mixture, return to the pan, and gently cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in bourbon, if using.
Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher to serve warm, or into a bowl set over the ice bath to serve chilled. Stir the sauce occasionally as it cools. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Nutrition information per serving of French toast: 320 calories; 133 calories from fat; 15 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 106 mg cholesterol; 261 mg sodium; 45 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 26 g sugar; 6 g protein.
Nutrition information per serving of creme: 162 calories; 103 calories from fat; 11 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 109 mg cholesterol; 23 mg sodium; 12 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 2 g protein.