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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Baked Cinnamon-Sugar French Toast


For Lent this year, Paul and I have done away with both cheese and sugar. Paul gave up cheese since he can be found munching on a wedge at any given time of the day (in fact, I think he often dreams of eating his way through a gigantic cheese forest). While I can resist the urge to eat a pound of cheese at a time, I do have a huge sweet tooth (just look at all the sweet recipes featured on this here blog) and decided that the greatest sacrifice for me would be bypassing sugar for the entirety of Lent. This includes adding sugar to oatmeal, coffee (gah!), and pouring syrup over pancakes. Now, since we are married, live under the same roof, and eat the same meals, when one spouse gives up something the other one pretty much has to go along with it as well. So, Paul and I are going without both cheese and sugar for Lent. And alcohol too, but that's more for Paul anyway. He's the one who has dedicated 1/4 of our fridge to his collection of favorite craft beers. My alcohol collection consists of a lone dusty bottle of Riesling laying waste somewhere in the basement.

The kids, however, are completely exempt and are thus free to eat their Lucky Charms and Macaroni & Cheese. I may have seen Paul staring longingly at Matthew's bowlful of artificially dyed cheese food last weekend.

In order to get our sugar and cheese fixes "out" before Lent, we had a couple cheesy and sugary meals on the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. For breakfast one morning, we had one of my favorite treats: Baked French Toast. Instead of dipping and frying individual pieces of toast to order, stale bread is instead cubed and allowed to soak overnight in an egg custard before being baked in the morning. When it is finished, it resembles more of a bread pudding than traditional French toast: warm, puffy, and slightly sweet. Pour over a generous portion of warmed syrup and add some sliced fresh bananas and/or strawberries and you have my idea of a perfect brunch dish.

This version of baked French toast is very simple, adding only a bit of cinnamon and sugar in addition to the vanilla custard base. But don't let the simplicity fool you: this is some seriously delicious stuff. Of course, you can always add in whatever fruit you'd like: blueberries, raspberries, mangoes, sautéed apples and pears, or bananas. You could also throw in some dried cranberries, chopped pralines, raisins, walnuts, or chocolate chips. A basic streusel topping would also send this over the top. Whatever you may try, it will turn out fantastic and you'll find yourself unable to resist going back for a second or third piece!


Baked Cinnamon Sugar French Toast
adapted from Taste of Home

For the French Toast:
1 pound white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (I highly recommend Challah, King's Hawaiian, or another sweet white bread)
8 eggs
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

For the Topping:
2 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add in the bread cubes and use a large rubber spatula to carefully mix everything together. Pour bread mixture into a 13x9 casserole dish, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, remove the casserole from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Dot the top of the casserole with the butter. Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the top. Cover the casserole tightly with foil and bake for 45-50 minutes, uncovering during the last 10 minutes of baking. The casserole is done when a thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing and serving with lots of syrup!

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