Generously coat a 9 x 13- inch baking dish with nonstick spray or butter. Arrange the bread in the dish in overlapping slices.
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, half- and- half, vanilla, and cinnamon. Pour this egg mixture evenly over the bread slices. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate overnight or for at least 3 hours.
The next morning, remove the baking dish from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
To make the topping, combine the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the mixture begins to bubble and foam. Once the butter has melted, slowly pour the mixture over the bread and in between the slices.
Bake, uncovered, for 40 to 45 minutes, until golden on top. Remove the baking dish from the oven. Baste the top of the casserole with the maple syrup sauce and top with the chopped pecans before serving.
For grown-ups only: I like to add 2 tablespoons of bourbon (whiskey) when cooking the maple syrup sauce to make this breakfast really special.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Heat the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small nonstick saucepan over medium- high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Watch attentively while the sugar syrup gently bubbles and changes from clear to a honey color. Once the syrup has changed color, add the pecans and salt. Stir for 1 minute, until the nuts are coated with syrup.
Immediately spread the pecans out in a single layer on the baking sheet. Separate the pecans as best you can with 2 forks, but don't worry if a few of them are clustered. Allow the pecans to cool completely before storing them in an airtight container. They will keep for up to 2 weeks
Variations: Add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper along with the pecans for a spicier kick.
Reprinted with permission from Savory Sweet Life by Alice Currah, William Morrow Cookbooks copyright (c) 2012