Pecan Pie French Toast Bake

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nonstick cooking spray
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light pancake syrup
1 cup chopped pecans
1-2 (15-ounce) egg challahs, with crusts, ends trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch thick slices
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
Melt the butter and brown sugar in a small pot over medium heat. Whisk in the pancake syrup. Stir in the pecans. Set aside.
Tightly arrange the challah in slightly overlapping slices in the dish. A few slices may not fit; press the challah down to compact it.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, hald and hald, milk, and pepper. Pour evenly over the challah. Press the challah down to soak in the egg mixture. Allow the bread to absorb the egg mixture for at least 20 minutes. You can prepare up to this step the night before; just cover with plastic wrap and store overnight in the refrigerator. Press the bread again to soak up more liquid. Pour the pecan mixture evenly over the top. Bake, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes, or until the bread is light brown and puffed. Serve warm.