The night before, make the French toast: smear the butter over the bottom and sides of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish or other shallow 2-quart baking dish. Tear the bread into small pieces and scatter in the dish.
In a large measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until light. Add the milk and vanilla and whisk well. Pour over the bread evenly. Tamp down the bread with a spoon or spatula to submerge each piece in egg mixture. Cover with foil, gently pressing down so the foil is right on the surface of the mixture. Refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, remove the dish and slide it into a cold oven with the foil on. Turn oven on to 350 degrees F. After 25 minutes, gently pull off and discard the foil. Continue to bake until pudding is puffed and golden brown, about 20 more minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the spiced pears: melt butter in a wide frying pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat then add the pears. Stir until pears are coated well with butter, then sprinkle sugar, cinnamon, and a good pinch of fresh nutmeg; continue to cook about 3 minutes until pears begin to soften. Pour in 1/4 cup of maple syrup; cook until bubbly then remove from heat.
To serve, spoon bread pudding onto plates and top with spiced pears. Pass additional maple syrup at the table.
Copyright 2001, Tori Ritchie. All Rights Reserved.