Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Baked cinnamon French toast

(tap tap) Is this thing on?  

I know it's been a while since I've shared a new recipe with you, but I promise that (hopefully!) I'll redeem myself today.  Good things come to those who wait, after all.  Good things like baked cinnamon French toast casseroles.  Mmm hmmm.  (Please excuse the bacon in the background.  It wanted to be a part of the party, too.)

Is your mouth watering yet?  No?  I'll wait then.

How about now?  Perfect!  This is a recipe that I feel everyone should have on hand at all times.  The reasons are two-fold: 1) It puts to use stale bread that may have gone to waste otherwise, and 2) It's a damn good dish sure to please everyone!

I've been on a soup kick lately which means I've been on a crusty chewy bread kick as well.  Sourdough, French baguettes, challah, you name it.  If it's a carbohydrate that can be dunked in warm brothy soup, I'm on it!  The unfortunate  thing is that my supply of soup is long gone before I've even made a healthy dent into the bread of choice.  I could sit and eat the baguette all by its lonesome, but if you've ever bought fresh bakery bread, you know that it goes stale very quickly since its lacking standard preservatives.  Rock hard stale bread = not so pleasant for nibbling.

But...!  Stale bread makes for the B.E.S.T. French toast!  In this instance, I cubed it up and made a fab breakfast for the next day!  Breakfast it is!

For years I've heard and read about, and even sampled and sampled variations on baked French toast.  It's quite possibly the lowest maintenance breakfast -- next to cereal -- ever.  But so much more decadent than cereal!

It's the same players that you know and love from your regular French toast routine, just shuffled a bit.  Start with a dish of bread cubes, add the standard egg and milk mixture, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Wake up and, while still half asleep, sprinkle crumb topping over now-egg-and-milk-soaked bread and pop into the oven.  I discovered the cooking time is the perfect amount for showering and getting ready for the day (or going back to bed for a cat nap).  Win win!  Oh, and if you want to throw in a few pieces of bacon on a cookie sheet to roast, surely no one will object to that.

When the smell of cinnamon is so intoxicating that you can no longer focus on readying yourself for the day ahead (or sleeping soundly), remove the dish from the oven and serve yourself immediately.  The top is crunchy and sweet while the bread has soaked up all of the custard mixture and is soft and chewy, leaving you to wonder why on earth did I ever toss out stale bread in the past?  Shame on you!  Just keep this recipe on hand and never look back... I won't tell :)

Breakfast Casserole
(adapted slightly from Pioneer Woman)
-serves 4ish, depending on your hunger and accompanying side dishes

A few notes: I scaled down this recipe so it was more reasonable for two people instead of a herd.  I also omitted the sugar in the egg mixture since the crumble topping and to-be-added-later maple syrup are more than sweet enough for my taste.  A little shocking, I know :)  Finally, if after soaking overnight, there is more than a little excess custard mixture (this may happen depending on the bread and how fresh or stale it is), feel free to drain slightly before baking.

1/2 (preferably stale) French baguette or loaf of sourdough bread
4 whole eggs
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
Dash nutmeg
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) cold butter, cut into pieces
Maple syrup, for serving

Tear or cut bread into roughly 1-inch cubes and place in 6-by-9-inch glass baking dish.  In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Pour over bread cubes and, if needed, toss slightly to evenly coat.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In a small bowl, mash together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and butter with a fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Store in a resealable in the refrigerator until needed.

When you're ready to bake the casserole, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Sprinkle topping evenly over casserole.  Bake 35 to 45 minutes until top has begun to brown and there is no more liquid in the bottom of the dish.

Scoop out portions and drizzle with maple syrup before indulging.  (Fruit is also an acceptable though not mandatory accompaniment.)

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