Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Baked Cinnamon-Apple French Toast

Brunch is my favorite meal that I rarely get to enjoy. I used to go out for brunch more often when I lived in Los Angeles and New York City, and although there are some great weekend brunch spots in Rhode Island, I don't brunch as often as I would like. Breakfast foods are some of my favorites though, and when a recent opportunity arose to participate in a brunch my sister was hosting, I immediately took the lead to plan the menu and execute some of the dishes.

When making breakfast for a crowd, and planning a complex menu, you can't really stand around flipping pancakes all day. With careful planning, you need to make smart menu choices to cover savory and sweet options with minimal effort.

While the savory half of the menu included a frittata, cheese and meat boreks, spanakopita, and a selection of charcuterie and cheeses, the sweet half consisted of fruit salad, chocolate chip scones, and this decadent baked cinnamon-apple French toast. And of course there were mimosas and coffee to wash it all down.

This baked French toast is really a cross between French toast and bread pudding. It's a cinch to make, especially if you can find Texas toast at your local grocery store. I found that it was more trouble than it was worth to visit more than a couple grocery stores with this goal in mind, and instead decided to bake a loaf of white sandwich bread, and slice it thickly to replicate the Texas toast. This worked beautifully!

Before baking

After baking (and before deflating--still puffy right out of the oven!)

The bread slices are soaked overnight in vanilla-laced custard, topped with a blanket of tender, cinnamon-spiced apple slices. The next morning it's baked for about an hour until puffy, golden, and fully set. Err on the slightly longer side if you notice a bit of loose custard sneaking up through your French toast. You want to make sure all the custard is set before you serve this to guests. Maple syrup is an excellent accompaniment, although I found the French toast to be perfect, delicately sweet, and well-balanced even without this addition.

The guests at brunch raved over this baked French toast, and like I said it really couldn't have been easier to make! Even though I baked my bread from scratch, I used a simple recipe that didn't require a lot of effort, and the entire dish just fell into place.

Baked Cinnamon-Apple French Toast
Serves 8
(From Gale Gand's Brunch)

6 medium apples (use a variety) (I used 5 large apples; it was plenty)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up into small cubes, plus more for the baking dish
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 slices Texas toast (thick presliced white bread) (I struggled to find commercially available Texas toast, so I baked my own white sandwich bread, and cut it into 8 one-inch-thick slices)
8 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Heat the butter in a saute pan over medium heat until it starts to foam. Add the apples and cook them until tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

Lightly toast the bread. Cut the toast slices in half to make triangles. Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish, and arrange the bread in two rows, overlapping in the dish.

Beat the eggs in a medium bowl; then whisk in the sugar, milk, and vanilla to make a custard. Pour the custard over the bread triangles, and spoon the apples over the top. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Uncover the baking dish and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the custard is set and doesn't shimmy when you shake the pan (err on the longer side to ensure its baked through--mine baked a little over 60 minutes total because I noticed a bit of runny custard bubbling out one of the sides around the 50 minute mark). It will puff up and brown slightly. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve it in squares or large spoonfuls with maple syrup, if desired.


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