Friday, January 11, 2013

Make-ahead French toast casserole

Treating guests to a leisurely brunch can be anything but relaxing for the cook. The solution is to start cooking in advance -- well in advance. This layered French toast casserole needs to spend at least four hours in the refrigerator before being baked.

To make life even easier, serve with baked bacon: Arrange a pound of thickly sliced bacon strips on a foil-lined sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees until done, about 10 to 15 minutes, then drain on paper towels.

You can vary the fruit in this recipe according to taste or what's in season, and you can substitute fresh fruit for the frozen. Just about anything that works well in a pie or crisp is a good candidate. If you choose a fresh fruit that browns when it's cut, such as apples or pears, use them in the middle layer, not on top.

And if you have leftovers, a future brunch or breakfast will be even easier to pull together. Arrange pieces of the casserole on a parchment-lined pan, making sure the pieces don't touch, then freeze until firm. When frozen, transfer to a plastic freezer bag. Thaw in the refrigerator on in the microwave at 30 percent power, then reheat at 70 percent (medium-high) power.

(I originally developed this recipe for an article that appeared in the St. Louis Jewish Light -- minus the bacon recommendation, of course!)

Yield: 8 to 12 servings

About 12 ounces Italian bread or French bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick
9 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups frozen blueberries
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cup frozen unsweetened sliced peaches
Maple syrup, for serving 

The night before you bake the French toast, butter a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish or coat with nonstick spray. Arrange a single layer of bread in the baking dish, cutting the bread as needed to cover the bottom completely.

Using a whisk, beat eggs in a large bowl. Beat in milk and vanilla. Pour half of the egg mixture evenly over the bread in the baking dish. Set aside a few berries to use on the top of the French toast. Scatter the remaining berries evenly over the bread. Stir together brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg; sprinkle half of the sugar mixture over the blueberries.

Make another layer of bread, covering the blueberries. Pour the remaining egg mixture evenly over the bread. Top with the peaches and the remaining blueberries. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture.

Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or as long as overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the French toast and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is set in the middle, about 55 minutes. Let stand at least 5 minutes before cutting. Serve with maple syrup.

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