Tuesday, April 6, 2010

French Toast Casserole - yes it CAN be good!

I love French Toast.  Unfortunately, my family doesn't share the same love...well, they kind of do, but hubby likes his dry and flattened with a spatula, where I like mine full of egg and puffy.  Kids could take it or leave it.  And no one but me is happy when I say "Monte Cristo sandwiches tonight for dinner!" I usually get an eye roll or a "oh." or even better a "They're too eggy".

I find making French Toast tedious.  Beat the egg, add the milk, cinnamon, sugar.  Mix again.  Heat up a pan, dip the bread, make a mess on your counter, fry it up in the pan, rinse and repeat.  Clean counter, clean bowl, clean pan.  Ugh.  Too much cleaning.

When I discovered French toast bakes, I was ecstatic.  Clean counters, no mess, no frying, make ahead of time, cook the next morning.  What more could I want?  Unfortunately, the recipes fell far short of my expectations.  Even Paula Deen's fabu French Toast Casserole with Praline Topping.  They were too tasteless, too eggy, too dry, too sweet, too...something.  I tried a lot of recipes.  Just ask my family.  But "determination" is my middle name - I may be a procrastinator at times, I may be easily distracted at times, and I may even stop what I'm doing to daydream, but dammit - once I set my mind to something, 99.9% of the times it WILL happen, because I am determined.  So, off I go perusing recipes.  AGAIN.  But with each "failure" comes knowledge.  One catches my eye for a French Toast Bake with blueberries and almonds - now THIS has possibilities!  Except...whoa. EIGHT eggs, and EIGHT eggwhites for only 1 baguette approximately 18 inches long and weighing only 8 ounces?  geeze...and...2 cups (which is...2 x 8 ounces - do you see a trend here?) of milk.  That's like having some bread thrown into your eggs for breakfast. 

I always thought French Toast should be a happy medium.  I think life should be a happy medium too, but it doesn't always happen that way, although I try to keep it that way.  You shouldn't make the bread sopping wet, but it shouldn't be dry either.  A quick dip to wet the bread, then into the hot pan to get puffy and golden.  You need a dense bread to make good french toast.  Wonder bread just doesn't cut it - waaaaay too much air.  The egg just soaks into it so quickly you wind up with crisp edges and a soggy middle.  This casserole had WAY too much liquid, and not enough seasonings.  Easily remedied by moi. (Sorry for the paucity of pix - I really didn't think the recipe would turn out as good as it did, due to my "luck" in the past with French Toast casseroles/bakes, so I sort of took the pictures "after the fact".  Besides, I don't think there is really anything you could learn from looking at a bowl of beaten egg, milk, and maple syrup.)

I got my ingredients together, and made some major changes.  Then I baked it in the oven, took it out, and it was GOOOOOOOOOOD!.  Zomg, it was good.  It was good hot, it was good at room temperature, it was good cold.  Two thumbs up from the entire family, plus a few friends that came over.  A definite winner.
Here is what you need for:

*note* Please, please PLEASE get a decent bread - it makes all the difference. This means: No Wonder-type light fluffy bread, or any of that crappy "french" bread a grocery store sells, trying to convince you it's the real thing when it's not...it's just Wonder bread in a beret. Look for a dense, crusty bread - a ciabatta would work, a semolina, a baguette from any place that knows how to cook something other than Wonder Bread (no offense, but if you live in Utah, you're probably out of luck - I didn't see one piece of decent bread the whole time my parents lived there - every loaf was underdone, pasty, and tasteless.) You are looking for a loaf that is chewy and dense.

1 baguette (or french or italian bread loaf) cubed - (I did this the night before, so the bread would be a bit stale-I had some left over after I put it in the pan- make bread crumbs with the leftovers!)
6 large eggs
1/2 cup half and half (If you want to be decadent, use ALL half and half, i.e. 1 cup.  If you want to watch your waistline, use ALL 2% - your choice)
1/2 cup milk of your choice (I use 2%)
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup pure maple syrup (This doesn't mean "Aunt Jemima's" or "Log Cabin" - these don't have a drop of maple syrup in them)
1 pint blueberries
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3 Tbs. brown sugar
2 tbs. butter

1.  Spray a 9 x 13" baking pan with cooking spray.  Put the bread cubes in the bottom of the pan in a single layer.

2.  Combine the eggs, milk, half and half, vanilla, cinnamon, maple syrup.  You can use a whisk or a mixer, your choice.  Pour this over the bread, making sure to get all the bits.  Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.   In the morning before you take the saran wrap off, you can press the bread down lightly just in case some pieces didn't get fully soaked.  Then remove the saran wrap.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3.  Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the top of the bread, then the almonds, then the sugar.  Lastly, take the 2 tbs of butter, and dot small pieces over the top (I used little pieces I broke off with my fingers - I am thinking about trying a streusel- like topping next time)

4.  Put in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  It should be set and lightly browned.  Remove and serve with maple syrup.  It tastes good hot, warm, or cold.

Now...possible variations:

-thinly sliced apple, chopped walnuts, and a streusal topping made with 1/4 cup of flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 6 tbs butter processed in food processer to a coarse crumb.

-raspberries and almonds - same topping - or blackberries, or...a combination of all three.

-peaches and pecans with the same streusal topping as the apples.

See what you can come up with!


  1. mouth. watering. i don't know how you manage to make all the foods i don't like look so dang GOOD.

  2. Because they ARE good seely! - Give the recipe a try, I promise you, there will be no leftovers by the end of the day - you'll have it for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner - but get some pure maple syrup - a must! I know you'd like this Tina!