"What's for breakfast?"
You probably hear that plaintive query most mornings. But if you celebrate Christmas, at this time of year it's more likely one you're asking yourself: What's the Christmas breakfast going to be this year?
Christmas breakfast has some very specific attributes. It has to be special; a bowl of oatmeal, even if steel-cut, won't cut it. Pop Tarts and Cap'n Crunch? Put 'em away.
Even more important, it has to be something you make ahead of time. There's NO WAY you want to be flipping pancakes at the stove while everyone else is gathered around the tree.
Neither do you want to create a situation where your little darlings suddenly assume a grumpy air and tell you, "I'm STARVING. When are we going to eat?"
Christmas breakfast has to be more than normally yummy (preferably warm from the oven); and it HAS to be ready at the drop of a hat – or make that Christmas stocking.
The solution? A breakfast casserole. From savory Asparagus Strata to rich, sweet Praline French Toast, this comforting combination of bread, eggs, milk, and add-ins – ranging from sausage to mushrooms, fruit to chocolate chips – is an easy way to enjoy family time and still feed the troops when they're ready and impatiently waiting.
Those last few days before Christmas can be beyond hectic; it's a wonderful feeling to know that you've made breakfast, stashed it in the fridge, and all you have to do as the sun rises Christmas day is slide it into a hot oven, and a work-free hour later ceremoniously set it on the table.
Along with the bacon, which you've baked right alongside the casserole.
One of my favorites in this genre, Apple French Toast Bake, combines apples, cinnamon, maple syrup, and a baguette. Individual baguette rounds are easy to serve one or two at a time; no messy cutting and scooping necessary. And the tumble of soft, buttery, cinnamon-scented apples atop the sweetened, nutmeg-scented custard and bread is an experience far beyond cornflakes – wouldn't you agree?
Lightly butter a 9" x 13" x 2" baking pan or similar-sized casserole dish. Make sure the pan is at least 2" deep; this casserole puffs up quite a bit as it bakes.
Slice a day-old baguette into 3/4" to 1" slices; you'll need about 21 slices to fill the pan.
Beat 8 large eggs in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Whisk in the following:
3 cups milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pour this mixture over the bread, and let it soak in while you're preparing the topping.
Peel and slice 5 to 6 apples (1 3/4 to 2 pounds fresh apples). Any type of apple is fine, though I prefer a crisp, tart apple (e.g., Granny Smith) rather than a softer one (e.g., Cortland).
Toss the apples with the following:
Spread the apples over the bread in the pan.
OK, decision time: do you want to bake this now, or later?
To bake the French toast right away, preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the apples are soft and the eggs set. The apples on top will never really brown; that's OK.
To bake up to 48 hours later, cover the pan with plastic or foil, and refrigerate. When you're ready, bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 60 to 70 minutes.
Remove the French toast from the oven, and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar or cinnamon-sugar, if desired.
Or drizzle with maple syrup.
Or do both, as I've done here. Nothing succeeds like excess!
Serve in all its singular glory. Or dish it up with bacon, to feed your salty-sweet side.
Truthfully? This isn't a rock star in the looks department. But the tender/crisp apples atop soft bread and custard, and the complementary flavors of cinnamon and maple and apple (and bacon!) make it a dish whose beauty is in the eating, rather than the beholding.
Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Apple French Toast Bake.
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