Whenever I visit my sister, like I did a few days ago, dinnertime is a rich, if chaotic affair. There is my family of four, her family of five, an assortment of her three kids’ friends, their adult friends, a favorite neighbor and his two kids, often my parents and my brother and his family, and of course, an assortment of pups waiting patiently underfoot for scraps. The cooking starts in the early afternoon, and at some point, panic will set in about whether or not we’ll have enough food, and someone will jet off on yet another trip to the store. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I am absolutely not. The meals are boisterous and loud and delicious, and when one is in the calendar, I look forward to it all month long.
But come breakfast? I don’t want to start the whole cycle over again. Which is where this beautiful baked French toast comes in. It takes only a few minutes to assemble at night, and then in the morning, all you have to do is shove it in the oven, then watch as it gets golden and puffy and crispy-custardy. This past weekend, I made it with a stale challah (it’s a great use for old bread!) and topped it with strawberries, powdered sugar, and syrup, but you can use brioche or good white bread, and top it with toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds), whipped cream, honey, you name it. Could we have just picked up a dozen bagels or set out a few boxes of Corn Flakes? Sure. But where’s the fun in that?
Overnight Baked French Toast
2 tablespoons unsalted butter for greasing pan, plus more for serving
1 loaf braided challah, preferably stale (enough for about 8 3/4-inch thick slices)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
kosher salt, to taste
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Optional toppings: crushed toasted pecans or walnuts, fresh berries, powdered sugar
Wedge bread slices into one layer on the bottom of a buttered 13-by-9-inch baking dish. (You can rip or cut up the slices up to make everything fit if you have to.) In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla, salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour the mixture over the bread, then cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight (or up to 24 hours).
When it’s time to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F and remove the baking dish from the refrigerator to bring to room temperature. Mix together remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the top. Bake uncovered until puffy and golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Serve warm with butter, syrup, and optional toppings.