Let’s start with a big shout out and thank you to all the mothers, grandmothers, step-mothers, mother-in-laws, and aunts out there who love, nurture, listen, and give of themselves all year long. Many do this through food, and since this is a Mother’s Day brunch recipe, I’m sharing a twist on my own mother’s favorite breakfast treat — French toast.
Now, try not to roll your eyes when I say that my mom is amazing and inspiring (whose isn’t, right?), but she really is. When I was a kid, my mom was a school administrator (now she’s Superintendent!) so in my eyes she took care of tons of kids besides me. That busy job meant that weekdays were jam-packed from sunup to well past sundown. But on weekends, she always made me breakfast. Sometimes we’d go the healthy route with oatmeal or cream of wheat (I like mine lumpy), but often she would make me her special French toast. The secret ingredient? Love. (She learned that from her mother, who always made everything with extra love. Hi, Grandma G!)
To make it a little easier to get brunch on the table for this holiday, I morphed this favorite breakfast into a baked version that you can put together ahead of time. Mom always put cinnamon and vanilla in her French toast, and this is no different. I thought about the convenience of using cinnamon-swirl bread, which would certainly be delicious, but it just isn’t as authentic. Instead, I took some inspiration from my other grandmother’s bread pudding, one of the first things she ever taught me to make (Hi, Gram D!), and added golden raisins into the mix. Baked French toast is a lot like a bread pudding anyway, and if you don’t like raisins you can easily leave them out.
My mother would probably argue that French toast doesn’t need sugar, and if you’re cooking it in a skillet she’d be right. The caramelization (aka browning) of the milk creates some sweetness, and then you douse it in maple syrup. But in the baked scenario, a little sugar goes a long way to flavoring the custard in the absence of double-sided browning. Personally, I’d still douse it in maple syrup. Or even fancier, serve it with spiced blackberry syrup (made with extra love) for a special occasion, like Mother’s Day!
Baked French Toast
- 12 slices brioche or challah bread, sliced ½ inch thick
- 3 cups milk (whole or 2%)
- 5 large eggs
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
My mother would use whatever loaf of bread she happened to have on hand, which you can definitely do here. But I love French toast made with brioche or challah bread. They absorb the custard better and keep nice layers once baked. It's important to toast the bread before making the casserole so that it will properly absorb the custard.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and set oven to 300 degrees. Layer the bread onto 1 large (or 2 smaller) baking sheets and toast in the oven for 20 minutes, turning and rearranging slices halfway through. Let bread cool, then arrange in 13 x 9-inch baking dish, overlapping slices to fit in dish, and sprinkling raisins between layers.
- In large mixing bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, ¼ cup of the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour evenly over bread in baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap so that plastic is touching the bread, and place another baking dish or book on top to weigh down the bread. Let sit for 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight (remove weight before refrigerating). If the casserole has been refrigerated, let sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before proceeding.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together melted butter and remaining sugar and spread evenly over bread. Bake until bread is puffed and nicely browned on top, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with spiced blackberry syrup (recipe follows).
Spiced Blackberry Maple Syrup
- 2 cups blackberries
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in small saucepan and bring to boil, stirring frequently and crushing berries against side of pan. As soon as mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat and let cool slightly before serving.