If I could live off bread and pastries without becoming gigantic, I absolutely would. I LOVE pancakes, French toast, bagels and cream cheese, crusty quiche, heck even simple toast with cinnamon sugar sends me to heaven! Seems I cannot get enough of the sugary carbs. If only The Mister shared my love we could be 350 pounds together! ;o) Since I am not so lucky (or, actually I AM) I only allow myself to indulge in the above mentioned bakery treats once in a while. Last year I decided to try out a French toast casserole, not only to indulge my sweet lovin’ palate, but to save time in the morning as well. I had heard that Mrs. Dean had a recipe, but it was almost sickening sweet so I decided to just Google it. There are so many varieties of this casserole out there that you can definitely find one that meets the needs of your particular taste. I decided to make things easy and just create a recipe as if I was about to make traditional French toast on the griddle top, but put the ingredients into a baking dish instead. After lots of trial and error this is what seems to work best for us:
French Toast Casserole, Retro Style
1 1/2 loaves of Italian sweet bread (I find mine on the day old, super cheap rack in the Kroger bakery and freeze them for later use. ‘Cause I’m cheap, I mean frugal!)
1 tsp cinnamon (mmmmmm……)
1 Tbl sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk (We usually have whole milk around here since we are growing an active toddler, so it’s nice and creamy.)
1/4 tsp salt
Optional Extras: Thinly sliced bananas, chopped nuts, brown sugar, butter
Start by deciding how big you want this thing to be. I have been taking things down a notch and using loaf pans so that we don’t eat this casserole for days on end. Sometimes just a taste is really all you need to get past the cravings, am I right? Butter up that dish and set it aside. Slice your bread no wider than 1/2 inch each.
OPTIONAL EXTRAS: If you decide to enhance the gooey-ooeyness of this casserole lay down a layer of thinly sliced bananas on the bottom, along with a mixture of chopped nuts, brown sugar, more cinnamon, and a little butter. Now, proceed to the next step. (This will melt together and make a nice topping to your inverted loaf once the baking is complete.)
Place the bread slices in overlapping layers, cutting to fit the space of the dish, until you have filled the pan to within about 1/2 inch of the lip. You don’t have to stuff the pan tightly, just don’t leave really big gaps in the layers.
Mix your remaining ingredients and whisk until slightly foamy. Pour over the bread, but do not fill to the top. This amount of liquid mixture should be enough for two loaf style or one 9” X 13” inch pan. The key to the whole process is that the dish must sit in the refrigerator overnight so the bread can soak up the liquid. If you use too much it won’t set up in the oven before burning or drying out the top layer.
The next morning, remove your dish from the refrigerator and let stand on the counter while preheating the oven to 375 degrees F. (Take the second loaf and place in the freezer for another time. Just defrost in the refrigerator overnight and bake as directed the next morning.) As soon as the oven is ready, put in your foil covered dish and set the timer for 30 minutes (20 for the loaf pans). After the timer goes off, remove the foil and cook an additional 10 minutes or until brown on top. Because ovens are different you will want to also check for doneness by giving the whole thing a little shake. If it wiggles a bit, the egg mixture has not set up yet. Just keep giving it a few more minutes (maybe 3-5 at a time) until it is done.
When cooked through, remove from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
(OPTIONAL EXTRAS, sans the nuts, pictured above. MMMmmmmm……)