Go ahead, ask us anything. Anything!! That’s the point of the Free Range chat, happening today and every Wednesday. Let’s say you’re curious about today’s top Food stories:smoking pumpkins, DIY winemaking classes, the bay-saving oyster farmer in Virginia. Or maybe you have a culinary conundrum or two. Whatever, we’re ready to help. So tune in at noon, and bring us your questions. What we don’t get to might show up in this space next week. Here’s a leftover from a previous chat:
I am hosting a brunch for a few friends and their kids and was thinking about making the type of French toast that you can do the night before. My friends rave about this concept. I have a bread machine, so I could even make a brioche-type bread a day or two before. Just explain the major concept to me: Do I dredge the bread and place it in the pan to sit overnight, or do I put the bread in the pan and pour a milk-egg mixture over it? Is there a trick to this?
Do-ahead French toast is one of the least tricky things I can think of. It goes something like this: Butter your baking pan. Add slices of bread. Pour the mixture of milk and egg (or if you’re bad like me, half-and-half and egg) over the bread. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, uncover and bake. Admire the puffy golden rise. Serve to smiles all around.
Kudos to you for being willing to make your own bread. Brioche would be fab; so would challah. You want to have nice, fat slices, maybe an inch thick, and ideally you want the bread to have a little age on it. If it’s dry, it’ll absorb liquid better. Remove the crusts if you feel like it.
You can work from a recipe that’s specifically intended to be assembled ahead of time, but really just about any baked French toast recipe can be done this way as long as there’s sufficient eggy liquid. You don’t want the bread to dry out in the oven.
I like to make this by first covering the bottom of the baking dish with a simple caramel, then adding the bread and liquid. During baking, the caramel melts into a sweet sauce that makes syrup unnecessary. It’s a lot like dessert for breakfast, but no one has complained about that yet.
Here’s a similar approach from our way, way long-ago archives. The fruit and bananas add another dimension while still keeping the dish kid-friendly.
Upside-Down French Toast With Apple and Banana
This spectacular French toast, adapted from “Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook” (Workman, 1996), is similar to a caramelized tarte tatin, the French upside-down apple tart. As Routhier writes, it needs no additional butter or syrup. Just a side of bacon or sausage, and that's it.
4 tart apples
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 large, ripe bananas
1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the baking pan
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 slices challah bread, cut 1-inch thick
Peel, core and cut each apple into 3/4-inch-thick wedges. Place the apple wedges into a large mixing bowl and toss gently with the lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Peel the bananas, and cut them crosswise into 3/4-inch slices. Add the bananas to the apples and toss to coat evenly with the lemon juice. Sprinkle the cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg over the fruits, and toss well to combine.
Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is hot, add the fruit and saute for about 30 seconds, until tender. Add the brown sugar and maple syrup and cook for about 30 seconds, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.
Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Transfer the cooked fruit mixture to the baking pan, distributing it evenly on the bottom.
Beat the eggs in a medium bowl until well combined. Add the milk and vanilla and combine. Dip the bread slices into the egg mixture just to moisten (both sides), then place them over the fruit in a single layer in the pan, making sure to cover the fruit entirely. (You might need to slice some of the bread in half in order to cover the fruit.) Pour any leftover egg mixture over the bread. Dot the bread with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Let the mixture sit for at least 10 minutes; or cover and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake, remove the pan from the refrigerator, uncover and let it sit for about 20 minutes to lose its chill. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden. Let cool on the stove top for 5 minutes. Using pot holders or heatproof oven mitts, place a serving tray firmly over the pan and very carefully turn the pan over to unmold the French toast. Spoon any syrup or fruit left in the pan over the bread, and serve at once.