The arrival of Sept. 1 in the U.S means -- along with going back to school and cooler weather -- that it is officially Pumpkin Season. Americans love their pumpkin in the Fall, whether it be in the form of pie, donuts, muffins, cake, or even coffee (my parents reported that this year, our local Dunkin Donuts in Rhode Island was already selling pumpkin spice lattes on August 31st). When I was little, I remember that going back to school in September was always tough after the Summer, but it wasn't so bad when I knew that my mom would probably have a few pumpkin donuts waiting for us when we got home.
The pumpkin trend does not seem to have caught on in Italy -- my friends here know pumpkin only as a vegetable, better used in the filling for ravioli than as the main ingredient in dessert. Not to be deterred, I have found a few stores in Rome where I can buy canned pumpkin (Castroni, for example, for those of you in Rome) and have made my annual "Pumpkin Recipe List," which this year, consists of things like pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin pot de creme, and pumpkin bread pudding, along with this pumpkin french toast.
As last year's pumpkin pancakes taught me, there's no better way to start a Fall morning than with a pumpkin-y breakfast, and this French toast was indeed so very perfect on a rainy, cold, October morning. Here we have slices of white bread, dipped in to a sweet, cinnamon-y custard before being fried in butter and topped off with a generous dose of maple syrup. The pumpkin flavor here, normally somewhat subtle, is brought to life by its usual suspects (cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg) and in terms of presentation, the orange of the pumpkin here is also lovely.
A couple of notes: this dish is super easy to throw together, but if you want to make things even easier for yourself, you can even prepare the custard the night before and keep it in a Tupperware container -- the spices have time to infuse the whole mixture when they sit over night. Definitely use day old bread here, as fresh bread will fall apart when dipped in the custard mixture. If you only have fresh bread on hand, you can also lightly toast it and let it cool, and use that. I like my maple syrup served warm (this is how my mom always served it to us when I was little, warmed up either on the stove or in the microwave) so give this a try! It really is preferable to cold syrup. Enjoy everyone!
PUMPKIN SPICE FRENCH TOAST
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
8 slices day old white bread (Challah or French Bread works well here)
Butter, for skillet and for serving
Maple syrup, for serving
In a mixing bowl whisk together the milk, pumpkin puree, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger until well combined. Feel free to add more spices at this point if you want (I always start out with these quantities, and then add a little more).
Pour the egg mixture into a shallow bowl.
Heat the skillet over medium low heat and add a little butter. Dip the bread into the egg mixture, turning it over on both sides (wait a few seconds so that it absorbs some of it). Transfer to the bread to the skillet and cook until golden brown on bottom, then flip the french toast to the opposite side and again cook until golden brown. Serve the french toast warm with butter and maple syrup. Makes 8 pieces.
Recipe from Cooking Classy (www.cookingclassy.com).