Christmas Day for us is a puttering sort of day. Everything is slow and savored; we don’t rush around to get anywhere, we don’t hurry to open presents. Maybe we sleep in, maybe we go out for a long walk at the park. Anything goes! I enjoy talking to friends and family throughout the day and watching some Christmas movies (A Christmas Story at least three times, not necessarily from start to finish, and Elf usually makes an appearance). We plan a fairly uncomplicated dinner and give ourselves the gift of a relaxing day.
It’s not that we don’t have traditions. We always open our stockings in our p.j.s before making coffee. I already mentioned the movies and phone calls. And we always, always have baked French toast as part of a late breakfast. I can’t remember exactly when this tradition began; the recipe is my Mom’s, but we didn’t have this on Christmas morning when I was a kid. To me, it’s ideal, because I can make it the night before and it’s ready for the oven in the morning. You don’t have to stand over the stove; you don’t even need to wait for the oven to preheat. Easy, easy stuff. It fits right in with our puttering plans for Christmas day.
I am posting my favorite version of the recipe, but it’s another great one for variations and substitutions. You can make it with challah or brioche or cinnamon bread without raisins, just about any sort of bread that works in a sweet setting. You can add dried fruit between the layers; I put some apricots in one year and it was a nice variation. I play some years with substituting egg nog for part of the milk, making a richer, more decadent breakfast. It is lovely served with fresh raspberries or blueberries, if you can find them, and makes a wonderful addition to a brunch buffet if you’re feeding a crowd.
So, here’s to Christmas traditions, new and old! If it’s too late to make this for your Christmas morning, try it for a lazy Sunday breakfast sometime soon; I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Baked French Toast
- 1 loaf cinnamon raisin bread (about 16 slices)
- 6 eggs
- 1 1/2 c. whole milk
- 1 c. light cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 4 T. butter, softened
- 1/2 c. brown sugar
- 1 T. maple syrup
- 1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)
Butter a 9″ x 13″ (or similar size) glass or ceramic casserole dish. In a medium bowl, scramble eggs with a whisk; add milk, cream, vanilla and spices and whisk together. Take a slice of bread and dip it into the egg mixture to coat, like you would for regular French toast. Place in the buttered casserole dish. Repeat with the rest of your bread, building layers of overlapping and fairly tightly-packed slices of egg-soaked bread. (You may not use the entire loaf, depending on the size of your casserole.) Pour any remaining egg mixture over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, mix together butter, brown sugar and maple syrup. Spread over the top of the casserole; sprinkle with nuts, if using. Place into a 350 degree oven: do NOT preheat if the casserole dish is at all cold, as a cold glass pan going into a hot oven will shatter. Bake for 40 mins., until French toast is puffed above the rim of the dish, golden brown and bubbling. Serve with additional maple syrup, if desired.