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Ah, Christmas morning… surely it’s not a time for cold cereal! French toast, one of the basic comfort foods, is a great fix-ahead breakfast--when it’s baked, not fried. A few easy steps the night before, and it’s ready to pop into the oven in the morning, where it bakes for less than an hour (just about the time it takes for the kids to rip through their presents). Feel free to leave the bacon out, or to serve it on the side; I just happen to love the sweet/salty flavor combination. Or substitute cooked sausage, or ham, if that’s your preference.
This is a rich but fairly plain-looking dish; it benefits greatly from a heavy dusting (more like a blizzard, actually) of confectioners’ sugar just before serving. And, for those who don’t mind mixing flavors (professional chefs call this “fusion”), maple syrup is a welcome addition.
So, at this point, who has time to bake bread? If you’re one of those organized people who had their shopping done in October, the fruitcake made in November, and the cards sent by Thanksgiving, congratulations! You’ll have no trouble making this bread. Or, if you have the help of a bread machine, go to the head of the class--you’ll have no trouble making this bread. Are you a seasoned bread-baker? Step right up, you’ve got the time to do this. If you’re stressing over last-minute shopping, blew off the cards this year, never even considered fruitcake, and suffer from “fear of yeast syndrome”--now’s not the time to experiment with new recipes. Just use a nice loaf of white sandwich bread, stuffed, soaked and baked as directed below.
3 cups (12 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter
1/2 cup (4 ounces) eggnog
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) warm water
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon vanilla OR 1/4 teaspoon eggnog flavor (optional)
1 pound bacon, fried or oven-baked till crisp
3 1/2 cups (28 ounces) eggnog
8 large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon eggnog flavor (optional)
Manual/Mixer Method: Combine all of the dough ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to form a cohesive mass. Knead the dough, by hand (on a lightly oiled work surface) or machine, for 5 to 8 minutes, until it's smooth and supple. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a proof cover, and allow it to rise for about 1 hour, or until it's puffy. Don’t worry about it doubling in bulk, because it probably won’t.
Bread machine method: Place all of the dough ingredients into the pan of your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer, program the machine for manual or dough, and press Start. About 7 minutes before the end of the final kneading cycle, check the dough’s consistency; it should have formed a smooth ball. Adjust its consistency with additional flour or water, as necessary. Allow the machine to complete its cycle.
Gently deflate the dough, and shape it into an 8-inch log. Nestle it into a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan, cover it (with a proof cover or greased plastic wrap), and allow the loaf to rise for about 30 to 45 minutes, till it’s crowned about 1 inch over the rim of the pan.
Note: This bread rises fairly slowly during its first rise, but seems to gather a head of steam and rise quickly once it’s in the pan.
Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for about 35 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove it from the oven, allow it to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove it from the pan and cool it completely on a rack.
Yield: 1 loaf, about 16 servings.
Ideally, the bread for baked French toast should be a bit stale. Either make this bread a few days ahead and let it get stale naturally, or cut 1/2-inch slices early on the day you want to assemble the French toast, lay them on a baking sheet or other flat surface, and let them dry out a little, at room temperature, over the course of the day.
Assembly: The night before you want to serve the French toast, arrange six 1/2-inch slices of bread in a heavily buttered 9 x 13-inch pan. You’ll probably need to “cut and paste” here; it’s unlikely the slices will fit perfectly into the pan. The point is simply to line the bottom of the pan with half the bread. Layer the bacon atop the bread, then top with the remaining bread slices.
Whisk together the eggnog, eggs, sugar, and flavoring (if you’re using it), then pour it evenly over the bread in the pan. Push the bread down into the custard. Cover the pan, and refrigerate overnight.
Baking: Next day, remove the French toast from the refrigerator, and let it rest at room temperature while you preheat your oven to 350°F. Uncover it, and bake it for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and it’s set. Remove the French toast from the oven, allow it to rest for 10 minutes, then dust it heavily with confectioners’ sugar. Cut it into squares to serve.
Yield: 6 to 10 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (1/8 of recipe, using the bread recipe above, 212g): 510 cal, 25g fat, 21g protein, 48g total carbohydrate, 16g sugar, 300mg cholesterol, 790mg sodium, 390mg potassium, 809IU vitamin A, 4mg vitamin C, 3mg iron, 172mg calcium, 273mg phosphorus.
December 17, 2002