Baked French Toast with Cream Cheese

1 1-pound loaf any light, fluffy bread
1 1/2 cup half and half
8 ounces cream cheese
6 eggs
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup melted butter
Apple butter or fruit preserves, for serving

Put cream cheese in the freezer.
Cube bread (you can remove crusts, or not, as you choose). Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with non-stick spray, and scatter half the bread cubes in the bottom.

Remove cream cheese from freezer and dice into 1/2 inch cubes. It really works better if the cheese is very, very cold, or partially frozen; just don’t let it get frozen hard. Scatter the cubes over the bread, and top with remaining bread cubes.

Whisk together half-and-half, eggs, and maple syrup. Pour over bread, pressing bread cubes down so all are submerged. Drizzle with melted butter. At this point, pudding may be refrigerated overnight, and then returned to room temperature before baking.

Bake at 350 until puffed and golden brown. Pudding will deflate after removal from oven and cooling slightly. Serve warm with apple butter or fruit preserves.