There are two camps of Mother’s Day celebrators: those who like nothing more than a lavish brunch/lunch/dinner at a restaurant, and those who hope for a homey celebration enjoyed while wearing a pair of fuzzy slippers.
I wouldn’t be sad with either option, but if I woke up to the smell of a French Toast Casserole (made by any member of my family except me) baking away in the oven, I would be a happy mom indeed.
This French Toast Casserole is basically a strata, which is a layered dish of eggs, milk, and bread, plus whatever else you are flavoring it with. Stratas can be sweet, enhanced with chopped dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, or booze, or savory, layered up with cheese, ham, etc. This one is on the sweeter side, and so much easier to make for a group than individual slices of French toast.
It’s a great brunch for a lazy weekend morning because all the work (and there isn’t much) is done the night before. In the morning, just transfer the dish from the fridge to the oven and slice up some fresh fruit, or do whatever it is you want to do while a hearty and luxurious breakfast cooks itself.
It’s the ultimate make-ahead dish, which actually must be made at least 8 hours ahead, so the bread has time to soak up all of the sweet, eggy batter. You could also bake it the night before, then refrigerate the cooked casserole and reheat it in the morning. However, reheating the cooked casserole will take about 20 to 25 minutes; cooking the whole thing takes only about half an hour, so you’re not saving a ton of time. Still, it’s good to know that leftovers reheat nicely in the microwave or oven.
And kids, even little kids, can help! They can put together pretty much the whole casserole, though an adult will have to decide it they are old enough to help slice the bread. The kiddos can also pick and choose the dried fruits or nuts they’d like to go in the casserole.
Try to use slightly stale challah bread, which, because it is dry, will absorb the milk-and-egg custard better. If your bread is fresh, slice it and let it sit out for a few hours to dry slightly, or even toast it lightly in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 5 minutes.
Mother’s Day French Toast Casserole
Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing the baking dish
4 cups milk, preferably whole or 2%
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup raisins, chopped dried fruit, or chopped nuts (optional)
1 large loaf challah bread, preferably 1-or-2-day-old, sliced ¾- to 1-inch thick
Maple syrup; fresh fruit such as berries, or sliced peaches or pears; and/or confectioners’ sugar
Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with butter, or spray it with cooking spray.
In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in any fruit or nuts, if using.
Arrange half the bread in a single layer in the pan, cutting the bread so it makes a solid layer. Pour half of the milk mixture over the bread, making sure to also evenly distribute at least half of any fruit or nuts that you’ve added in.
Repeat, creating a second layer of bread, then pouring over the rest of the milk mixture, again evenly distributing any fruit or nuts. Lightly press the bread into the liquid.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The bread will absorb almost all of the milk mixture. Uncover the baking dish, and if there are dryer looking pieces on top, carefully tuck them underneath the bread on the bottom, so the more soaked pieces are now on top (a little messy, but it all works out in the baking). Note that any dried fruit sitting on the top of the casserole will get pretty chewy, and the fruit that is tucked into the casserole will be softer, so disperse the fruit as you see fit.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Bake the French toast, uncovered, until puffed and golden, for 30 to 35 minutes. Let it sit for 5 minutes to firm up a bit. Cut into squares and serve with your choice of maple syrup, fresh fruit, and/or confectioners’ sugar.
Katie Workman writes regularly about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.