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Pear Pecan French Toast Souffle

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There are lots of very good recipes for this and other fruit/nut-based French toasts. We don't recall where this one came from, but it is very good. Cook this in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan (we prefer glass). It will serve 8-10, and leftovers hold well for a few days in the refrigerator and reheat nicely in a microwave on a lower setting.

Ingredients:

1 - 1/3 c. brown sugar (dark preferred), firmly packed
10 T. unsalted butter (preferred) or margarine
1/4 c. water
1 28 oz can sliced or halved pears, drained (we often poach Anjou pears especially for this dish)
5 c. bread cubes (or perhaps more), gently pressed down. We use the ends from French and whole wheat loaves, cut into 1 inch cubes.
1 c. finely chopped pecans
12 eggs
2 - 2/3 c. milk
1 T. vanilla extract

Preparation: Make the caramel base: Put the butter in a medium pan, add the brown sugar, and cook over medium heat until melted. Add the water, and continue cooking until the mixture bubbles. Let it just bubble, stirring once or twice, for 3 minutes or so. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Pour into the baking pan and distribute evenly over the bottom. Let cool to room temperature.

If using sliced pears, slice again to be sure they are thinly sliced. If using halved pears, slice crosswise or lengthwise not more than _ inch thick. Place the pears in a single layer on top of the caramel base.

Evenly spread the cubed bread on top of the pears (the bread layer should be about 1-1/2 inches thick). Evenly distribute the chopped pecans over the bread cubes.

Beat the eggs with the water until well blended. Add the milk and vanilla, and beat again until well blended. Pour over bread mixture. Pat down gently, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake covered for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking uncovered for about an additional 35 minutes, or until nicely browned and puffed. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes. It will deflate a bit, but that's normal.

Cut into serving pieces, spooning on top a bit of the caramel sauce from the bottom of the baking dish.

Notes: The amount of milk and eggs may vary depending on the bread. In summer, we often like to substitute sliced fresh peaches for the pears, and toasted slivered almonds for the pecans.

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