Recipe: Hawaiian French Toast

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.

For ten years (!), I’ve been trying to improve upon a version of French Toast I first tasted while staying at Howard House Bed and Breakfast in New Bern, NC. The owner, Kim Wynn, served a French toast dish with pineapples which I devoured and begged the recipe for. As always, regional variation in groceries mean that some things just can’t be duplicated, and for starters, we can’t get “Texas Toast” in our supermarkets. I’ve been experimenting on and off with various iterations of the dish ever since.
When you’re a five-room bed and breakfast and you are putting together menus to feed ten or twelve guests per day without additional help in the kitchen, you do all you can to make sure that the entree can feed all of the guests without anyone feeling “cheated.” Yes, we always have cereals and yogurts on hand (and if I do say so myself, I make a nice yogurt parfait with a sprinkle of vanilla granola), but it’s a little personal victory for me when I can prepare a recipe taking into account dietary restrictions that accommodates everyone in one try.
Last week, we had dairy-free guests who were staying four days, and I really didn’t want them to feel like pariahs with a daily parade of “special” meals. Our “sweet” days are generally the more challenging, for the two most common dietary restrictions are gluten and lactose intolerance. (Translation, no wheat for the former, no milk or cow’s milk cheese for the latter.) On the dairy-free side, most recipes are workable with soy and almond milks, though because they are thinner, sometimes there’s a slight texture difference. Coconut milk is also dairy-free, but unlike soy and almond, it adds a distinctive flavor to the meal.
Flipping through my binder of recipes, I came across Kim Wynn’s recipe for her pineapple french toast, and something clicked. Pineapple…coconut…. rum…marachino cherries on little umbrellas…piña colada!
Actually, piña coladas originated in Puerto Rico, but when I think of pineapple, I think of Hawaii. And…King’s Hawaiian Bread, a soft, slightly sweet loaf I can find easily in California, but until recently (that regional variation again), not here in the Hamptons.
And coconut milk. Yummy, lactose-free coconut milk. Used purposefully for the taste as well as to accommodate the lactose intolerance.
Voilá! The result is reminiscent of a pineapple upside-down cake (though I left out the marachino cherry in the middle of the pineapple ring).
350 oven
8 servings
12 King’s
Hawaiian bread dinner rolls, roughly torn
1 13.5 oz can  light or regular coconut
5 eggs     
1/2 tsp EACH cinnamon and nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
stick butter
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. dark
brown sugar
1 15 oz. can
crushed pineapple in syrup, well drained, or ½ fresh 
pineapple, coarsely chopped in food processor
1 15 oz. can
pineapple rings, well drained
Dash  rum (optional)
1/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted in microwave (here’s how to do this)
3 Tbsp. crystalized ginger
The night before:
a 9” x 13” baking dish. Tear rolls roughly in half and scatter evenly in bottom
of pan. Mix milk, eggs, spices and vanilla in bowl. Pour over bread in pan.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next
pan from fridge and let come to room temp (approx. 30 minutes). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
butter in skillet, add 3/4 cup brown sugar, crushed pineapple and a dash of salt.
Cook until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Add rum (optional) and cook an
additional minute. Pour over bread mixture. Arrange pineapple rings on top. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar, toasted coconut and crystallized ginger over top.
Bake 35 minutes until lightly browned. Cut and garnish with a sliced
Taste of the Islands! 

I should have added the paper umbrella.