Ah, Christmas! The day so many of us have been preparing for lo, these many weeks. Now, believe it or not, it's just 7 days away.
Do YOU have your Christmas breakfast strategy planned yet?
I mean, we're talking a Big Issue here: how to enjoy Christmas with your family - the tree, the music, the kids' explosive excitement – and still ensure everyone gets something yummy in the tummy before happy turns to cranky (as it's wont to do, when breakfast is late).
Cornflakes? Too commonplace. An elaborate sit-down? Itchy kids can't sit.
The solution? Make ahead, bake in the morning.
OK, time out. Before I go any further here, I want to tell you that for the moment, I'm separating the religious holiday from the secular celebration. I know that there are some of you feeling the need to challenge me for A) mentioning Christmas, thereby being too religious; or B) not focusing on the religious aspects of the Christmas celebration.
Personally, I'm a Catholic and I celebrate Christmas at church. Also with Santa Claus and his elves. And family and friends. I celebrate Christmas on many levels, all of them important.
Here's my take on it: religion is personal. I'd no more try to influence how you celebrate (or not celebrate) Christmas than I'd tell you whom to marry, or give you advice on raising your kids. To each his own.
That said, I WOULD advise you on this: breakfast. I can tell you what's tasty, warm, upscale enough for a celebration, and EASY.
Want my advice? Read on...
What's your favorite flavor? We have 21 of these Lorann extra-strong flavors online, ranging from apple to vanilla-butternut, with plenty of interesting choices in between. (Let's hear it for blackberry, and peach, and pistachio, and creamy hazelnut, and... root beer?)
If you don't have a particular favorite for French toast – ours are shown above – just use vanilla instead.
REAL Vermont maple syrup lends wonderful flavor. Especially extra-strong Grade B, great for baking.
Now, pick what bread you'd like to use. Leftover/stale bread works well here; kids may prefer softer, sandwich-type bread, which will make softer, smoother French toast. Adults seem to prefer denser bread, bread with more body. Like the loaf above: No-Knead Crusty White Bread.
You'll want to slice the bread 1/2” thick. It helps if all the pieces are the same thickness, so slice carefully. Cut enough slices to snugly line the bottom of a 9” x 13” pan. Set them aside while you make the syrup and custard.
OK, let's dive in. Hopefully NOT into this hot syrup. As always, when working with hot sugar, please do so without kids, cats, dogs, or anything else underfoot.
Melt 1/2 cup butter in a saucepan, and stir in 1 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup, or corn syrup. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, cooking until the sugar melts.
Pour the glaze into your lightly greased 9” x 13” pan, spreading it to the corners. I'm using stoneware here; it makes a nicer presentation at the breakfast table.
Lay the slices of bread in the pan, atop the glaze.
Use a fat loaf of Italian bread for larger servings...
...or baguettes for smaller servings.
See how these slices are all the same height? “Measure twice, cut once,” right?
To make the custard, whisk together 1 1/2 cups whipping cream, half and half, or milk; and 5 large eggs.
Pour it over the bread in the pan...
...pressing the bread down into the custard.
Within minutes, the bread will start to absorb the custard.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
Next morning, the bread will be soaked, and the custard level way down; that's fine.
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the topping by stirring together 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Sprinkle it evenly over the bread.
This makes a very sweet French toast. Cut the amount of topping in half, if you like. Or sprinkle with simple cinnamon-sugar. Or even just cinnamon; leaving the bread naked is kind of gloomy looking, so DO sprinkle it with something, OK?
Bake the French toast for 40 to 45 minutes.
The filling will be bubbly, and the top very lightly browned.
See that syrup underneath?
Let it rest for about 15 minutes before serving, to give the syrup a chance to thicken a bit.
If you're totally on the ball, you will have made your bacon as the French toast was baking. I like to lay bacon on parchment on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake it right along with the French toast, in the oven. Bacon bakes beautifully: flat, golden brown, and straight. And the parchment makes cleanup a snap.
Baked French toast, bacon... easy, tasty, FAST.
The slice above wasn't flipped over, but simply had some of the syrup in the pan spooned over the top.
And here's what it looks like in a different incarnation: with the bread diced, instead of sliced (as though you were making bread pudding) and served right side up, without flipping to reveal the syrup.
Now, if French toast doesn't float your boat...
...how about taking a break from sweets, and enjoying something savory? Our Sausage Cheese Biscuits are easily made ahead...
When you're ready for breakfast, remove the biscuits from the freezer, put them on a pan...
...brush with cream...
...and bake, fresh and hot for your early-morning Christmas breakfast. Being frozen, the biscuits will need several additional minutes of baking time beyond what the recipe indicates.
The siren song of melting cheeeeeese... who can resist?
And finally, for you coffeecake fans – our Guaranteed Cinnamon Streusel Coffeecake translates very nicely to “make now, bake later.”
Prepare it for baking the night before, cover with plastic, and refrigerate. I've baked it in two 9” round pans, rather than a 9” x 13”, because I wanted to serve it in a bit fancier form than the usual slab o’ cake.
So, take your biscuit cutter, cut a round...
...and lift it out. It'll probably come with the cutter, though you should support the bottom with your fingers so it doesn't fall onto the counter in an explosion of crumbs.
Leftover crumbs? Baker's treat!
Awwww, isn't that cute?
Merry Christmas to all. And to all...
...a good bite!