Last weekend my college friends came over for brunch. There's something really special about college friends. These are the people who accompanied you on your journey from the kid you were when you left home to the adult you are today. In fact, you're probably the adult you are today because of your college friends.
When I get together with my college friends, no matter how long it's been, it's as if no time has passed. We pick up conversations we started years ago and talk and talk and talk.
The friends who visited last weekend were friends I hadn't seen in a while. I wanted to make them a nice meal. But I didn't want to miss a moment of their company.
That's the great thing about brunch. It really lends itself to dishes you can prepare ahead of time.
Like this French toast. Not traditional French toast prepared at the stovetop, slice by slice. No, I'm talking about baked French toast that's more like a cross between a casserole and bread pudding.
The prep is super easy. Slice up some bread (I used challah). Mix up some eggs, light cream and flavorings (essentially, a custard). Combine. Bake. That's it.
The French toast I prepared — rich, vanilla custard with a maple pecan topping — is just one example. But you could do a hundred variations. Put some orange zest in the custard. Add some dried cherries or raisins to the bread. Leave out the nuts altogether. Whatever you like.
The point is that you assemble the whole thing the night before. It actually needs an overnight stay in the fridge for the bread to soak up all the custard. Then, in the morning, pop it straight into the oven.
Grab a hot cup of coffee and enjoy good friends and good conversation, while your French toast happily bakes away in the oven.
First prepare the maple pecan topping. Combine butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in a saucepan.
Heat until the butter melts.
Pour the mixture into a baking pan and sprinkle chopped pecans on top. Set aside.
Slice your challah into pieces about 1 inch thick. Set aside.
To prepare the custard, whisk together eggs, light cream, cinnamon and vanilla until everything is thoroughly combined.
Now, one piece at a time, dip a slice of challah into the egg mixture...
...then lay it into the baking pan on top of the maple pecan mixture.
Repeat until the pan is full. After a few slices you may have to tear the challah into smaller pieces and smoosh them in the pan in between the larger slices. That's fine and it will still look beautiful once it bakes.
Pour the remaining egg mixture on top. Then cover the pan and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, put the baking pan in the oven and bake until the french toast is puffed and golden.
To serve, cut a piece of the French toast and place it pecan-side up on a plate. Drizzle with warm maple syrup.
Baked French Toast With Pecans
Recipe from Bon Appetit magazine
This dish is assembled a day ahead so the buttery sauce can soak into the bread.
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup maple syrup (the real stuff)
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 ½ cups light cream (or half and half)
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 1-pound loaf challah or egg bread, sliced (1 inch thick)
maple syrup, warmed, for serving
1. Stir butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in heavy saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth. Pour into 9" X 13" glass baking dish. Sprinkle pecans over butter mixture.
2. Whisk eggs, light cream, cinnamon and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Dip bread slices into egg mixture and arrange in single layer in prepared dish.
3. Pour remaining egg mixture over bread slices in dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake French toast uncovered until golden brown and puffed and knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
5. Cut into six pieces. Serve pecan-side up with additional warm maple syrup.