My grandma used to buy Hawaiian bread and I remember being a kid and pulling off hunks from the round loaves and enjoying the extreme fluffiness. No butter, no jelly, just super soft bread. I used to squish it into bread marbles and toss my marbles into the air and try to catch them in my mouth. I wasn’t ever very successful but the three-second rule applied.
Some people suggest making French toast or bread pudding with stale or at least day-old bread, but I’m not so sure. I dislike anything that’s hard, dry, or tough and starting with something dried out and old doesn’t give me warm and fuzzy feelings. The exception is for overnight breakfast bakes, when using a firmer bread is advantageous so it stands up to an all night marinating session.
For this French toast, I started out with a soft, fresh 0ne-pound round of King’s Hawaiian Original Sweet Round Bread. I diced it into chunky cubes, one to two inches each. You could tear if that’s faster for you. The soft, tender bread is like a little sponge, perfect for soaking up the sweet, buttery marinade.
To make the marinade, melt one stick of butter, add two eggs, milk, maple syrup, sugars, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, optional salt, and whisk. I love recipes where you just pile everything into a bowl and whisk it up quickly, and this is that kind. I was happy to keep the egg count to only two. Two eggs in an entire batch of French Toast is pretty impressive and compared to bread pudding, or other baked French toast recipes I’ve seen, some easily approach a half dozen or more.
The milk can be regular, coconut, cashew, almond, soy; or half-and-half or cream if you want to splurge. If you don’t keep certain spices on hand, or would prefer pumpkin pie spice, more cloves or ginger (allspice has traces), feel free to mix and match. Going on the heavier-handed side with the spices is a good idea because this is a pound of neutral-flavored bread, and it needs to be properly spiced so the French toast isn’t bland.
After whisking together the batter mixture, add the sliced bread and diced banana pieces. I diced two medium, ripe bananas into small pieces and folded them in while folding in the bread. At this time, feel free to fold in optional ingredients like raisins, coconut flakes, blueberries (fresh or frozen), or another favorite fruit like diced apples, peaches, or mango.
Toss the bread and bananas gently to coat them evenly before transferring the saucy mixture into a foil-lined prepared pan. It’s amazing that in just a matter of minutes, the bread soaks up all that marinade. It’s very thirsty.
Lightly smooth and press the mixture down into the pan. I don’t compact it (that’s bread pudding) and keep it looser, like pull-apart French toast. However, make sure not to leave any bread corners or pieces jutting up because they’ll be prone to burning.
You can make this recipe as a make-ahead/overnight option and place the assembled pan in the refrigerator overnight. However, assembly comes together in literally 5 minutes. If you’re doing it as a make-ahead option, use a crusty, heartier bread that won’t disintegrate overnight, like a French baguette.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden and set. Because the recipe begins using cooked bread and all you’re doing is baking in those comforting flavors, don’t overbake. It’ill firm up as it cools and I prefer to preserve the Hawaiian bread softness. Baking times will vary based on the absorbancy of your bread, oven variance, and personal preference. Making sure it’s set and not sloppy in the middle of the pan is the goal.
I am not normally much of a breakfast person. Okay, let’s rephrase; I’m not a breakfast in the morning person, but breakfast-for-dinner is great. I served this as brinner (breakfast-for-dinner), along with eggs for Scott and Skylar, and it was met with rave reviews. I sprinkled a little salt on the eggs and on the French toast. That hint of salt, contrasted with the sweet of the maple and the bananas, was the perfect salty-and-sweet vibe. There’s a reason salty bacon, sausage and eggs are served with sweet pancakes and French toast. The combo works.
While baking, the sugars in the marinade caramelized around the edges and on the sides of the bread, adding both flavor and texture. There’s a softly-crusted exterior, while the soft, fluffy Hawaiian bread interior is retained. The maple flavor intensified, and the cinnamon and spices, not only flavor the bread, but perfumed the house while it baked. There is nothing quite like luscious smell of maple syrup, cinnamon, bananas, and bread baking. It’s the holy grail of Good House Smells.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup milk or cream (regular, soy, almond, cashew, etc.)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- heaping 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
- optionally add: about 1/2 cup raisins, blueberries (fresh or frozen), diced apples, peaches, or mangoes; coconut flakes
- 1 pound Hawaiian Bread, diced in 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces, or use Challah (If making this as an overnight/make-ahead option, use French bread, a French Baugette, or a crusty and hearty bread that can stand up to overnight soaking without disintegrating)
- 2 medium ripe bananas, diced small (about 1 1/2 cups loosely measured banana bits)
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-by-9-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute (or use browned butter. Allow the butter to cool momentarily so you don’t curdle the milk or scramble the eggs.
- Add all remaining ingredients to the butter, except for the bread and bananas, and whisk until smooth and combined. Add the bread cubes, bananas, and toss gently to coat.
- Transfer mixture to baking pan, pressing it down just slightly with a spatula to even and smooth it, but I leave it fairly loosely piled (unlike bread pudding which is packed down). Push down any bread corners or sides that are jutting up so they don’t burn. Scrape out any marinade in the bottom of the bowl and pour that over the bread.
- Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden and browned, and the marinade has dried out some, taking care not to overbake as you want this moist. The coating does not have to be bone dry on all pieces. Serve immediately by slicing into pieces (I made 9 generous squares) or scoop with a serving spoon.
- Serve with Vanilla Maple Butter, warm maple syrup, a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, a sprinkle of salt (my husband loved the salty-and-sweet) or plain. Store extra French Toast in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, reheating gently in the microwave prior to serving with a drizzle of syrup; or freeze for up to 2 months. French toast becomes less sticky as the days pass, making it easy to wrap up like muffin for a portable snack.
- If making this as a make-ahead/overnight option, assemble, cover pan with foil, and refrigerate for up to 16 hours before baking. Remove foil, and bake as directed, possibly extending baking time past what’s suggest (30 to 35 minutes) since pan and contents are starting out cold from the fridge.