French toast makes me laugh because as a child I HATED it, but now I can't get enough of it! I even won a special "Chopped" cooking competition on the Anderson Cooper Live show for my French Toast dish! For someone with an incredible sweet tooth, it was strange for me to dislike such a sweet, carb filled breakfast treat, but I think it was the way my mom made it for me. My mom is an exceptional cook and I talk about it all the time in my blog posts and videos, but I was never fond of her french toast method. She used to make it with plain white bread that was soaked in egg, milk and sugar and then browned in a pan. Since she only used thin, plain white bread it ended up having this unfavorable texture and the flavor was often metallic..maybe it was the pan she used, but I just did not like it. Once I moved to NYC I started going on brunch adventures with friends and working in top NYC restaurants, so I discovered how absolutely incredible French Toast can be! The 3 key things to remember when making french toast are:
-Use good bread! The best breads to use are thick, eggy breads like Challah bread (my favorite), French Pullman bread, Brioche, or breads that have yummy flavors like cinnamon swirl bread, or those new sliced white breads that have flavors like Pumpkin Spice and French Vanilla.
-Make sure your egg/custard mixture is flavorful! Make sure you add some sugar, some vanilla extract, or vanilla bean (or almond or orange extract can be nice too!) and a pinch of salt. This will ensure that you have a flavorful french toast inside and out!
-Soak it for several hours or overnight! My french toast casserole especially and all other thick pieces of bread that are used for French Toast should be soaked in your egg and milk/cream mixture overnight to ensure that the inside gets all the yummy flavors and texture as well. When you cook it the outside will be nice and crisp and brown and the inside will almost be custard like..rich and heavenly!
The recipe below is a recipe for French Toast Casserole which is fantastic for big groups and families because you can assemble it the night before, set it in the fridge to soak up all the good flavors and then bake it in the morning all at once! You don't have to hover over the stove for hours flipping each individual piece of French Toast until each person is fed. This casserole can be stuffed with any fruits, chocolate, nutella, peanut butter, cream cheese your heart desires! Here are my favorite combos-
-Nutella & Banana
-Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and Bananas, Strawberries or Raspberries (or all three)
-White Chocolate Chips and Blueberries
-Add Pumpkin Pie Spice, Cinnamon and Nutmeg to the egg mixture to make a nice fall casserole. You can even whisk some pumpkin puree into the egg batter.
-Cream Cheese and Strawberry or Raspberry Jam
-Or just some Cinnamon and Nutmeg in the batter and on top..a little Dark Brown Sugar is good too! Simple and traditional
French Toast Casserole
- 1 Large Loaf of Bread cut into 1 inch thick slices or large 2in x 2in cubes (Challah Bread is preferred or a mixture of breads. I sometimes will do 3/4 Challah Bread and then 1/4 Pumpkin Spice Bread (you can find it at the grocery store in the bread isle in the Fall)
- 8 Eggs Beaten Lightly
- 3 Cups Half and Half
- 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar plus a little more for the top
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/8 Teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon plus more for the top
- Any Fruits or Topping you may like (see my suggestions above)
- 2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- Butter a 13inch x 9inch Pyrex dish or any Casserole oven-safe dish you have. Arrange bread nicely in the baking dish. If you want to put fruit or any filling do it now! Layer your bananas, jam, chocolate chips or whatever you'd like in between the layers of the bread.
- In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, half and half, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
- Pour mixture over the bread in the baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 7-8 hours.
- Remove from the fridge 25-30 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Dot the top of the French Toast with small pieces of the butter. Sprinkle the top with a little Cinnamon if you'd like and then sprinkle some granulated sugar evenly over the top. Not too much but just enough to get a nice crystal like appearance when you bake it.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the French Toast puffs up and the center comes out clean. Let it stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Serve with maple syrup!
This should feed about 10 people but if you have extra just put it in the fridge and eat it all week! Just heat it in the microwave.