Erlend and I have been together for many years (I think we may have just passed our nine year anniversary of dating, lol), and our Thanksgiving tradition is that we don’t really have one. Neither of us come from families that celebrated the holiday in the traditional American way (my parents aren’t American, his are… uh, independent and non-traditional). As a result, we’ve been mostly left alone by ourselves for the the last nine years. For a while, when we celebrated solo, we had the tradition of roasting a duck and celebrating with a bunch of Asian sides like we did in 2014 and in 2015.
However, over the last few years, as our pool of acquaintances slowly and naturally weaned itself down to all the good friends who are probably going to be around for the rest of our lives, we’ve started attending and even occasionally hosting Thanksgiving dinners that expand beyond the two of us. In New York, we had a small Friendsgiving with a friends of mine from college and high school, and friends of Erlend’s from middle and elementary school. This year, we’re doing a Friendsgiving dinner at my friends Sze Wa and Jeremy’s house to celebrate their fancy new leather couch (These are the milestones of millennial adulting — we celebrate when we finally invest in nicer furniture beyond Ikea, lol. I swear I’m not alone in this.).
Although I’m not cooking dinner this year (that’s up to Sze Wa and Jeremy, thank goodness), something I’ve always noticed in Friendsgivings of past is that, since all the attention is focused on dinner, breakfast and lunch are often forgotten about and we’re all starving, hangry, and drunk by 3PM. This year, I’m being the responsible one in the group by providing everybody breakfast with this overnight pumpkin croissant French toast situation:
If you ever find yourself cooking breakfast for a crowd, I really recommend going with an overnight French toast situation. Overnight French toast recipes usually serve 6 to 8 people, and all the prep and hard work is done the night before to allow the bread to soak up the custard as much as it can. Simply whisk together the ingredients and pour over the slices of bread; let it sit overnight and bake the next morning to allow the bread to get both crispy and custardy at the same time. It’s wonderful for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas since you can prep it ahead of everything else, and it doesn’t really require much beyond a bowl, a whisk, and 45 minutes in the oven first thing in the morning. Plus, everybody is then well-fed and nice later. It’s a win all around.
To make this a little bit more seasonal and celebratory, I threw in pumpkin and used croissants for extra butter and flakiness (also, Jeremy’s French so I figured he’d appreciate it, lol). And here’s a secret — this is a recipe that works wonderfully as a low maintenance dessert too. If you don’t want to bother with Thanksgiving pie, simply serve this instead (preferably with a caramel sauce instead of maple syrup) and call it “pumpkin bread pudding”. No one will even know the difference, I promise. Enjoy!
Some baker’s notes:
- You’ll need at least 5 to 6 croissants for this recipe; if you go to a fancy French bakery, the croissants will be delicious but likely pricey. Since you’re dousing them with a bunch of pumpkin and milk, you really don’t need to opt for the best kind of croissants — I used the croissants from Costco, which were cheap (I think I paid $5.99 for a dozen?) and good enough for this recipe. In a pinch, you can use whatever bread you have on hand; I also recommend a thick, hearty brioche or white bread similar to pain de mie or Texas toast. Whatever bread you decide to go with, just make sure that it’s absolutely 100% stale as opposed to fresh — fresh bread is still too soft and moist, which means that your French toast won’t crisp up in the oven and will be soggy and sad. The same rule applies to bread pudding and stuffing recipes; you always want to use bread that’s hard and stale and almost inedible on its own.
Overnight Pumpkin Croissant French Toast
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 pound about 5 large stale croissants (see baker's notes)
- 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
- 1 cup (8 ounces) whole milk
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) confectioner's sugar
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
The Night Before
- Butter a 10-inch castiron skillet with 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and set aside. Slice croissants crosswise and arrange in the buttered castiron pan.
- In a medium bowl, whisk pumpkin puree until loosened. Slowly pour in 1 cup whole milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream, while still continuing to whisk the pumpkin puree slowly. Whisk in 2 large eggs, 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt until all the ingredients are combined and the mixture is a thick but still fluid, mottled pale orange.
- Reserve 1/2 cup of the pumpkin mixture by pouring into a small glass jar with a lid or a small tupperware container. Pour the rest of the mixture over the arranged croissant slices, making sure to coat each slice with a generous layer of the pumpkin mixture — let the rest pool in the bottom of the pan. If necessary, use an offset spatula to spread the mixture evenly across each croissant slice; you want the croissant to absorb as much of the mixture as possible for the most custardy, delicious breakfast. Cover the croissants with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to chill overnight.
The Morning Of
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 (F).
- Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of pumpkin mixture over the croissants, using a small rubber spatula to spread it around evenly across the slices to completely cover them. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake until the custard is set and the edges of the croissant look crisp and toasted, around 45 to 50 minutes.
- Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly, before sifting 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar over the slices and garnishing with 1/4 cup roughly chopped toasted walnuts. Serve warm, with a side of butter and bottle of maple syrup.