If I took all the sweet, warm, comforting flavors of the fall season and combined them into a single weekend breakfast, what would it look like?
Yes, I believe it would look a lot like this pumpkin challah French toast, stuffed with a cinnamon-y sweet and creamy maple-mascarpone filling and topped with a warm apple and pecan relish. I couldn’t resist throwing this over the top, given the surprise outcome of the sourdough pumpkin challah I made last week. The maple spice swirl inside the braided round loaf inspired me to repeat those flavors in a “go big or go home” recipe. The result is this French toast—with a luxurious, custard-like center, spiked with maple and spice and everything nice, and topped with a fresh apple and toasted pecan relish for a contrasting texture and bite.
Is it decadent? You bet. Sweet? You cannot imagine. And the only way to bring harmony to such a sweet and creamy brunch item is to serve it with a fall-inspired cranberry-cider mimosa. The prosecco bubbles, plus the tart and tangy flavor of the cranberry are welcome relief to so much richness.
Welcome back, Autumn! We’re so glad you’re here. 🙂
I’ll describe how I made this, but of course, I already had the sourdough pumpkin challah, which is not easy to find. If you enjoy baking bread, you might consider making your own. Or, to replicate the big autumn flavors in this dish, I’ll offer suggestions that allow you to use a regular challah or brioche, either of which should be much easier to get your hands on from the bakery department of your supermarket. My posts are meant to inspire, and however that happens at your house, enjoy!
4 large slices challah or brioche, slightly stale* (see notes)
3 oz. mascarpone*
2 Tbsp. maple cream*
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 cup whole milk* (see notes for pumpkin adjustment)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
Challah and brioche are similar “eggy” breads—each has a light and delicate crumb, and both are perfectly suited for French toast, including this recipe. The primary difference is that brioche is made with butter and challah (being a popular Jewish bread) is frequently made with oil. Leave the slices unwrapped overnight, as the stale texture will force them to better absorb the egg mixture.
Mascarpone is an Italian-style cream cheese, but a bit richer and denser. I buy it in small tubs at Trader Joe’s. Regular cream cheese would also work fine in this recipe.
Maple cream—oh, sweet wonderful maple cream! This delightful confection is pure maple, but in a different form from syrup. It’s made by heating the syrup then whipping until it’s a spreadable texture, similar to peanut butter. It is positively decadent. If you cannot find it, substitute about 1 tablespoon maple syrup.
If using regular bakery challah or brioche, reduce milk to 1/2 cup and add 1/4 cup pure pumpkin puree to the egg mixture before soaking.
Instructions (a.k.a. “feast your eyes”)
- Using a handheld mixer, whip together the mascarpone, maple cream and cinnamon until smooth and spreadable.
- Spread maple-mascarpone mixture onto two slices of the challah or brioche, then top with remaining pieces to make two “sandwiches.”
- Whisk together eggs, milk, pumpkin (if using), vanilla and salt. Pour some of the mixture into a flat glass baking dish and place the filled sandwiches in the egg mixture. Drizzle the remaining mixture over the sandwiches and turn several times for about 20 minutes until most of the mixture has been absorbed.
- Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. When it’s evenly heated, place sandwiches on the griddle and cook until the underside is golden brown. Turn sandwiches over, taking care not to allow the top piece to slip off. Cook until the second side is golden brown.
- Serve warm with maple syrup, or go crazy and make the warm apple-pecan relish (below).
For warm apple relish topping:
To this point, pumpkin has enjoyed all the attention in my autumn-inspired brunch. But apples have equal star power this time of year, and this is their cue to step in and share the spotlight. This chunky topping provided textural contrast and flavor to the soft and creamy french toast.
1 medium firm apple, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice (to prevent browning)
2 Tbsp. chopped toasted pecans
1 Tbsp. maple sugar (or syrup)
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
Squeeze lemon juice over apple pieces in a small microwave-safe bowl and stir to toss. Microwave for 30 seconds, just long enough to warm and slightly soften the apple bits. Stir in pecans, maple sugar (or syrup) and spice.
For the cran-cider mimosa
This brunch cocktail was exactly what we needed to slice through all the sweet, rich flavors of the French toast. If you prefer, you could easily adapt this to non-alcoholic by substituting selzter or ginger ale for the prosecco. My suggested amounts are for one cocktail.
2 oz. chilled apple cider (I used spiced cider from Trader Joe’s)
2 oz. chilled cranberry juice cocktail
2 oz. chilled prosecco or other bubbly (champagne, seltzer, ginger ale)
Layer ingredients in a champagne flute just before serving the French toast.