maple french toast bake + breezy brunch

maple french toast bake + breezy brunch

A few weeks ago, while on an extended stay in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama, I went to church for the first time in a decade. Twice. The first time for confession at the big cathedral downtown (which, ftr, was hilarious as the priest kept asking “really that’s it?” almost making me feel insecure about being boring?). Then I went again to mass the following Sunday at St. Mary’s for my honorary nephew’s first communion. I bought a new hot pink dress and a pair of spanx that gave me a muffin top. The service was surprisingly lovely. I said a prayer for a friend, watched Silas experience his first Eucharist (“The wafer tasted kinda dry, is that okay to say?” LOL), and even shed a few sentimental tears about life and aging and suffering despite the hilariously awkward click-clack-clanging of the new age drum situation they had accompanying the traditional church organ during hymns.  

maple bread pudding_baked.jpg

I did not, however, go to church last weekend for Easter Sunday. I thought about it, really hard. I almost went, but instead stayed at home to make brunch for my similarly lapsed-Catholic husband who loves brunch and most sweet things only a little less than he loves me. The way I see it, family is all I ever prayed for in church as a little girl so staying home to enjoy that bounty is another form of rejoicing. The gratitude was there if nothing else.

Not to mention making this meal was basically an act of complete and total selflessness on my part {hair flip}, because - did you already know this about me? - I really hate, like h8 h8 h8888888, brunch. Dining out for brunch especially. Nothing but overpriced eggs, that racket. Actually the last time I actually ate brunch at a restaurant was my wedding weekend, by special request from Cos, and the meal was as unnecessarily expensive and about as *meh* as I’d expected. That’s why when it comes to brunch, I will always opt for making it at home. It’s cheaper and more pleasing to your taste buds.

This brunch here though? It’s theee method, and it works every time. The fun starts the night before when you mix up equal parts brown sugar and maple syrup with a little butter. Pour it in a baking pan, layer it with hunks of bread, swirl together a custard mixture, and pour over the bread until it is soaked completely.  Then send it to the fridge for overnight rest. The resting step (which is mandatory for most bread puddings btw, so don’t even try to play yourself) makes the act of pulling brunch together the next morning both breezy and rewarding. It’s the linchpin, as everything else gets prepped while the bread pudding bakes in the oven.

For even more low stakes decadence, throw a sheet pan of bacon alongside the casserole as it bakes, and while the oven is going, toss some greens with lemon, olive oil, and a little seasoning. (Spinach and Maldon salt for me pls!) Wash a clamshell of berries and maybe slice open an avocado. Scramble or fry some eggs, depending on how many people you’re cooking for. Whip a little cream or just use the stuff in the can for Ina’s sake. It’s not that serious, you know? Oh and hey while you’re at it, might as well put on the new Beychella Homecoming Live album, pour a big ole cup of Joe, and have yourself a blessed out morning. Church don’t always look the same every Sunday.

Overnight Maple French Toast, sourced from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe with a bunch of tweaks to my liking
Serves 4-6

5 tbsp butter
½ cup (3.5 ounces) packed light or dark brown sugar
½ cup pure maple syrup (don’t substitute okay?)
6 (1-inch thick) slices brioche or french bread or 12 thinly sliced pieces of regular white bread; cut into 3/4-inch cubes with the crustiest crusts removed (see pictures in post below)
5-6 large eggs (for thicker bread, use the larger amount)
1 cup half-and-half
An eye-balled tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
Whipped cream + fresh berries, for serving

Add butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup to a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave for 2-3 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Stir to combine. (This step can also be done on a small pot on the stovetop.)

Lightly grease a 9X13-inch pan with cooking spray. Spread the brown sugar mixture in the bottom of the pan, making sure that it evenly covers the bottom of the pan. Then arrange the bread cubes in a single layer over the top.

In a bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, and salt. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread, moving pieces around and pressing the bread down into the custard so that every piece is soaking up liquid.

Press down a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface so that no air will touch the top. Then cover the pan and refrigerate overnight (10-18 hours).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and remove pan from the refrigerator so that it comes to room temperature while the oven heats up. When oven reaches 350 degrees, uncover casserole dish and place inside oven to bake for 30-35 minutes, until the bread is golden and the caramel-ish syrup is bubbling. If the bread puffs up substantially, use a knife to poke a few holes in the surface and it should deflate immediately. Once fully baked, let stand for 5 minutes, then serve with sweetened whipped cream and fresh raspberries or strawberries.

On the reheat I’d go with 10-15 minutes at 300 degrees F to warm up, then 2 or so minutes under the broiler to get the maple layer nice and brûléed.

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