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How-To

French Toast Stuffed with a Creamy Filling

For a do-ahead breakfast, stuff the bread the night before; the next morning, just sauté and bake

Fine Cooking Issue 36
Photos: Scott Phillips
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No matter what else I put on the breakfast menu, my repeat guests all request the same thing: stuffed French toast. That’s probably because they’ve learned that stuffed French toast is the chameleon of my menu—never the same, yet always delicious. I’ve been serving it at my inn in Pennsylvania Dutch Country for ten years, and I’m still coming up with new renditions.

Once you know the method, you too will want to experiment, combining cheeses for an innovative filling, trying out a new kind of bread, or turning a favorite fruit preserve into a warm glaze. Stuffed French toast is ideal for entertaining since you can do most of the work ahead. In fact, the dish benefits from a night in the refrigerator. The bread absorbs more of its eggy coating, and the filling firms up for better texture.

Choose the bread and think through the filling

You’ll need a loaf of unsliced bread so you can cut extra-thick slices and make a pocket to hold the filling. Choose bread with a texture that’s firm enough to hold up to a bit of handling but that’s still light enough to absorb the egg coating. Challah is a fine choice, and I find that Italian or French breads with soft crusts are also good. Here in Amish country, I can get loaves of unsliced raisin or cinnamon bread; if you have a favorite bakery bread that isn’t too dense, try it out.

In classic French toast, or pain perdu, the bread surrenders itself completely to the egg dip. But in stuffed French toast, the super-thick slices of bread don’t soak up as much egg, so it’s the filling and the syrup that deliver most of the flavor and moisture.

I like to combine two cheeses in the filling, such as cream cheese, sour cream, ricotta, or perhaps mascarpone. I also use grated hard cheeses like Cheddar and Monterey Jack, a crumbly cheese like Gorgonzola, or a softer cheese like chèvre. You can mix and match, but be aware that too much cream cheese can overwhelm the other flavors. The filling should be fairly stiff since it has to withstand a quick sauté and several minutes in the oven. Test a new filling by baking a bit in a small ramekin for about eight minutes. It should be somewhat firm, not too loose or runny.

Enhance the base filling with fruit and spices. If you’re using fruit, choose those that benefit from baking, like apples and pears. Save softer fruits like strawberries and raspberries to use in the syrup or as a garnish. Fruit preserves, citrus zests, and flavor extracts are good additions. Avoid using fruit juices: they’ll make the filling too runny. The most important thing is to consider each component of the dish to be sure you don’t have clashing flavors.

To make the pocket, insert a sharp knife into the center of the top crust of the bread and then work the knife in both directions, cutting to within 3/4 inch of the sides and bottom. Be careful not to puncture the sides. Squeeze the bread gently to part the opening. Spoon in a few tablespoons of the room-temperature filling, being careful not to overstuff or tear the bread. Wipe any extra filling from the opening with a clean paper towel.
Squeeze the bread gently to part the opening. Spoon in a few tablespoons of the room-temperature filling, being careful not to overstuff or tear the bread. Wipe any extra filling from the opening with a clean paper towel.
Dunk the stuffed bread in a mixture of egg and heavy cream to fully coat each side. Stand the slices in a baking dish, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Out of the frying pan, into the oven. Sauté, bake until heated through, and serve.

While the bread bakes, prepare the syrup

Slice the bread thickly, make a pocket, stuff the bread and dip it into the egg mixture following the photos at left. Sometimes I add a crunchy coating as well, like cornmeal or ground nuts. If you’re assembling the dish the night before, put the stuffed, dipped bread in a baking dish, cover tightly with foil, and refrigerate.

In the morning, sauté the bread until golden brown and then bake until the filling is heated through. Depending on the filling, the bread may puff up ever so slightly. Be careful not to overbake or the bread will dry out and the filling will get too runny.

You can prepare any syrups or toppings ahead, but mine are so simple that I make them while the stuffed French toast bakes. I use fresh fruit syrups or warmed preserves to complement sweet fillings. In some cases, pure maple syrup is a fine match, too. When the stuffed French toast is ready, spoon on the syrup and sit down to enjoy the dish—and the accolades.

Blueberry and apricot glazes are excellent with fruit-filled French toast, as is reduced apple cider spiked with cinnamon and cloves.

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