April 11, 2008

A Toast to the Host

When having overnight company or hosting a brunch, the last thing I want to do is peel my eyes open at "o'dark thirty" and spend all morning in the kitchen trying to whip together a meal.

I recently hosted six for breakfast and my main objective was to keep the prep work to a minimum, but make the meal memorable.

When I came across this recipe for a french toast casserole, I was immediately drawn to the praline topping. I mean, french toast is good, but that topping sounded sinful. What's more, the directions couldn't be easier.

I didn't have pecans, so used hazelnuts. It was a fine substitute. Also, there is absolutely no need for the maple syrup, in my opinion. The bread bakes beautifully and the praline topping adds enough sweetness to satisfy even the biggest sugar addict.

The only issue I hold with this dish is the amount of butter (two sticks!) in the praline. Butter makes everything better, but it also makes the back side bigger. I have to remind myself that this is a Paula Deen recipe. Anyone who knows her cooking, knows that butter is the cornerstone of many of her recipes. So, I guess I knew that going into it. But, I also don't think I will serve this on a regular basis. My pants are already too tight.

Baked French Toast Casserole with Maple Syrup
from Food Network courtesy of Paula Deen

6 to 8 servings

1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)
8 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt
Praline Topping, recipe follows
Maple syrup

Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs). Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup.
Praline Topping:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Makes enough for Baked French Toast Casserole.

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