It's a versatile dish. Bake the French toast with a light touch of spice, maybe a little vanilla or citrus zest, or play with the toppings and flavorings.
Top the bread with diced fruit or berries, and add some chopped nuts, chocolate chips or a streusel topping.
Add white chocolate to the custard base as a nod to white chocolate bread pudding.
For a savory take, eliminate the sugar and add diced sausage and mushrooms, onions or leeks.
Add a little heat with chiles or diced peppers, and top with a grating of cheese.
Maybe the best thing about baked French toast is that virtually all the work is done ahead of time. Assemble the dish the night before to soak and refrigerate it.
The next morning, remove the baking dish from the fridge as the oven heats so it can warm slightly (for even baking).
Top the bread with whatever you want, then put it in the oven. In less than an hour, breakfast is ready. It's a perfect dish when you have houseguests.
Baked French toast
2 cups heavy cream
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1¼ cups white chocolate chips
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 cups milk
2 eggs, beaten
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 (1-pound) loaf stale French or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch slices
½ cup flour
¼ cup light brown sugar
1 cup sliced almonds
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 pound cherries, berries or chopped stone fruit or bananas (you can use frozen fruit; simply thaw and drain well before using)
In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and orange zest over medium heat. Place the chocolate chips in a large mixing bowl. When the cream comes to a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips, whisking until the chips dissolve. Whisk three-fourths cup granulated sugar into the mixture, then the milk, eggs, egg yolks, vanilla and almond extract to form a custard base.
Place the bread slices in a single layer in 2 greased 8-inch square baking dishes and pour over the custard; the bread may need to be squeezed into the dishes to fit. Cover the bread and refrigerate the mixture for several hours, preferably overnight.
While the bread is soaking, make the streusel topping. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour with the remaining one-fourth cup granulated sugar and brown sugar, then stir in the sliced almonds. Using your fingers, mix the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is combined and resembles small peas (you may still have larger pieces of almonds; this is fine). Cover and refrigerate the mixture until needed, up to overnight.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the baking dish and streusel topping from the refrigerator to warm slightly as the oven heats.
Take the drained cherries and toss them over the bread mixture, pressing a few cherries between the bread slices. Drizzle the streusel topping over the bread and cherries.
Bake the French toast until the bread is well-puffed and the topping is golden, about 45 minutes. Check to make sure the French toast is cooked throughout.
Increase the heat to 425 degrees and continue to cook the French toast until the topping is crisp and golden-brown, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
Makes 12 servings. Per serving: 609 calories; 11 grams protein; 66 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 35 grams fat; 18 grams saturated fat; 166 mg cholesterol; 39 grams sugar; 286 mg sodium.
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