Hasselback Challah French Toast

It’s time to get hopping for the big brunch. With it’s glazed ham, sprightly asparagus, scalloped potatoes and that beautiful braid of bread, the Easter feast is a celebration that everyone looks forward to. Oh, and don’t forget the eggs – scrambled, poached, or made into a quiche, chocolate foil-wrapped, or brightly dyed – there will be eggs of all sorts, and plenty of them.  

I am all about tradition when it comes to celebrations, but I also like to serve something a little unexpected. This Hasselback Challah French Toast is a new way to serve the bread that everyone looks forward to. The hasselback treatment makes it perfectly crisp on the outside, and soft and pillowy on the inside, more like a cinnamon roll, less like the wet custard consistency of some French toast. Dusted with powdered sugar, this showstopper deserves a plate of honor at your table.

Challah is “the” bread to use for French toast. The texture is just the right amount of sturdy and soft, and while everyone expects to have the obligatory slice with their Easter meal, what they really are dreaming of is the leftovers. Why make them wait? Serve French toast at Easter but make it for a crowd. Hasselback Challah is a clever way to bring on all the Easter bread feels, but don’t you dare count this as your Easter bread. Buy a second loaf for those who need to see it the usual way. 

The hasselback technique turns your loaf into pull-apart bread. Everyone can dig in once you pull it from the oven. You can go the no plates route and eat this out of hand with maple syrup for dunking, or serve it brunch-style. But the best part is that this treatment is mostly hands-off, so no standing over the stove for you. Once you prep the challah, it refrigerates overnight. Pop it in the oven in the morning and you have enough for a crowd, but ready all at once. One and done, doesn’t that sound good?

I couldn’t resist trying to healthify this a bit by reducing the fat. I replaced the heavy cream from the original recipe with evaporated milk and swapped in 2% milk for the whole milk. I cut the butter back by 1 tablespoon, too. You could also make this non-dairy by using any alternate milk that you like. Cut your bread crosswise, not quite all the way through, into 1-inch slices, then slice lengthwise down the loaf in the same manner. 

I used 2 tablespoons of maple syrup in the custard soak, but I had a little multitasking mix-up with the melted butter. I had two measuring cups sitting together on the counter, and  distracted with a phone call, I mistakenly added the 1/3 cup to the salad dressing I was making instead of into the melted butter.  It made the dressing too sweet, but not wanting to waste, I rescued it by just making more, tripling all of the other ingredients and doing my best to forget that it still contains 1/3 cup of maple syrup. I added a few tablespoons of maple syrup to the melted butter and carried on. My challah was none the wiser and I now have plenty of very sweet salad dressing.

Hasselback that challah. You can make it ahead, so hop to it!

Hasselback Challah French Toast

serves 8

  • cooking spray for dish and foil
  • 1 2-pound loaf challah or brioche
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk  
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk 
  • 4 large eggs 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons maple syrup, divided, plus more for serving
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Lightly coat a 13×9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Line baking dish with foil, leaving a 6-inch overhang on each side; lightly coat foil with cooking spray. Cut challah crosswise into 1-inch slices, leaving about 1/2-inch intact at the bottom. Slice lengthwise down the loaf, continuing to leave 1/2-inch intact at bottom then transfer to the foil-lined baking dish.

Measure evaporated milk into a large liquid measuring cup, then add 2% milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and 2 tablespoons maple syrup and whisk until combined. Pry open the slices of bread and carefully pour the batter in between so that the mixture seeps down and absorbs. Wrap the foil tightly around the loaf and refrigerate at least one hour and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Unwrap loaf, remove and discard foil and extra batter. Return loaf to baking dish and cover dish with a new piece of foil. Bake until the slices are damp but no longer soaked and the center is still soft, about 40 minutes. 

Meanwhile, combine melted butter and remaining 1/3 cup maple syrup in a liquid measuring cup or small bowl. Remove the French toast from the oven, remove foil, and pour the butter mixture over the top and in between the slices. Return to oven and bake until edges are crisp and a little darker in color, about 20 to 25 minutes. Immediately transfer to a serving platter (it will stick if left in dish). Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve with more maple syrup.

-adapted from recipe by Grace Elkus 


Donna Ferguson

Donna Ferguson

I love to cook, garden, and write about all the things in Vancouver and the Northwest that make life so great.

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