Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

A sweet and savory, ham and cheese French toast (sub rolls here), a breakfast of dreams, perfect for Valentine’s Day breakfast. Ham and cheese with onion, garlic, maple syrup, brown sugar and cayenne–swooningly delicious.


On New Year’s Day we woke up hungry. New Year’s Day is also my honey’s birthday so I wanted to make a better-than-average breakfast for him that morning. I already had an idea that had started percolating the night before.

For our New Year’s Eve celebration, I made Italian meatballs in marinara sauce – a recipe I’m still perfecting. The ideal meatball is almost within grasp but not quite there yet. Stay tuned for that story. 2015 is the year of the meatball.

I put out hoagie rolls and grated mozzarella and parmesan cheese to go along with the meatballs. As usual, I bought too many rolls and ended up having a bunch leftover. And that’s when I started thinking about a way to use them instead of consigning them to the freezer.

It was obvious, or at least obvious to me: French toast. But not just any French toast would do. I wanted to make a serious stuffed and baked French toast with both sweet and savory breakfasty flavors. I found ham in the freezer and quickly defrosted a big slice. Then I started cooking some onion and garlic. Cheddar cheese? Check. Maple? Indeed. A touch of cayenne for some heat. And a bit of brown sugar for some sweetness.

Oh my, oh my. Best French toast ever! I mean EVER! I was pretty proud of myself that morning. And I guess I still am.

The next time you’re having overnight guests, want to treat your sweetie, or feel deserving of a seriously tasty and filling breakfast (and why wouldn’t you), whip this up. You can prep it the night before or just allow some time in the morning. Most stuffed French toast recipes call for letting it rest for at least an hour before baking, but I couldn’t wait that long. Could you bake it right away? Probably, but I’m guessing the bread wouldn’t have enough time to absorb the batter, and the more batter it absorbs the better. It was pretty darn tasty with only a 30-minute sit. I think it would be absolutely fantastic with challah, brioche, or any type of sweet bread. Hoagie rolls are a bit too bready so next time I’ll probably use whole wheat bread. Hmm, do I have any bread in the frig?

Sweet and Savory Ham and Cheese French Toast | Grabbing the Gusto

Sweet and Savory Ham and Cheese French Toast | Grabbing the Gusto

Ham and Cheese Sweet and Savory French Toast

You’ll need a small skillet, medium bowl and baking dish – I used a 10” x 10”.

  • Butter
  • Small to medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup half and half or light cream
  • 1/2 cup milk – I used 2%
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • Salt
  • Cooking spray
  • 5 soft white hoagie rolls or 8 to 10 slices bread – or the equivalent of whatever you have
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup chopped ham – enough to lightly cover the bread
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese – enough to lightly cover the bread
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
  • Maple syrup, for serving

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the onion until it’s softened. Add garlic and cook for one minute.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the half and half, milk, maple syrup, eggs and a pinch of salt.

Spray baking dish (mine was a 10” x 10”) with cooking spray. Dip each piece of half the bread in the batter and arrange it along the bottom of the dish. Scatter the onion mixture, ham, cheese, brown sugar and cayenne over the bread. Dip the remaining bread in the batter and arrange them on top. Re-whisk the remaining batter and pour it over the bread. Press down gently. Let the stuffed French toast sit in the fridge for 30 minutes, or up to overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 and bake until the top of the French toast is cooked though and the tops are browned, about 25-30 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes. Slice and serve warm with maple syrup.

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