Just a few notes on the recipe: It is an adaptation of a recipe in The Kosher Palette (Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Kushner Yeshiva High School, Livingston, New Jersey). The original recipe calls for the challah slices to be placed directly in the baking dish. Because I was feeding a crowd, I cut the challah slices into cubes to make it easier both to serve and to eat. Also, I didn’t have the Grand Marnier called for in the original recipe, so I substituted Amaretto. If you cook this about 8-10 minutes longer than specified, the caramel gets darker and a bit crunchier. I like it this way and discovered this version because I got distracted and left it in the oven too long! My son likes it soft and cooked as indicated in the recipe. I recently cooked and served three dishes of this French toast to a crowd for a Sunday brunch. On Thursday I cubed the bread and kept it in the fridge in a plastic bag. On Friday, I prepared the caramel mixture, poured it into the dishes, and put them in the fridge, covered, overnight. Saturday night I prepared the egg mixture, poured it over the bread, and again stored it in the fridge overnight. All I had to do on Sunday morning was take it out of the fridge and pop it in the oven. I loved the fact that the different steps could be spread out, minimizing the last-minute crunch.
Food Editor’s Notes: Amy is my sister-in-law, and I tasted this wonderful dish at a brunch at her home the day after my nephew’s bar mitzvah. All the guests raved about it and asked for the recipe, including me. It turns out that Amy’s version is based on a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, The Kosher Palette, which was given me by my dear friend and amazing cook Adele Bacow. Amy adapted it for the brunch by cutting the challah into cubes instead of using the slices as is. When I made this at my home, I made some further changes (not incorporated below). First of all, I was making this at the last minute, so I didn’t let the challah soak in the egg mixture overnight – I just poured it over and popped it in the oven. Second, I didn’t bother to trim the crusts off the challah. Third, because the original version was a bit on the sweet side for me, I used an extra slice of challah which, together with the crusts left intact, provided more bread for the same amount of “sweet.” Also, I thought I had both Grand Marnier and Amaretto, but in fact had neither, so I just used a teaspoon of orange extract in its place. The end result was beautiful and delicious, a perfect dish for a special breakfast or brunch. All of which goes to show that this recipe is incredibly easy and foolproof. When the final product comes out of the oven, it is puffed up to about three times the height of the baking dish (be sure to remove the racks on top before baking) and looks absolutely smashing. Time it to be done when people are sitting at the table or just lining up for the buffet and you will get loads of “oohs” and “aahs” as you present this dish. It sinks quickly, but will still taste marvelous.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
6 (1-inch thick) slices of day-old challah
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier or Amaretto
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine butter, brown sugar and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Pour quickly into 13 x 9 inch glass baking dish and spread evenly (the syrup starts to harden fairly quickly).
Trim crusts from the bread, cut into approximately 1 to 1 ½-inch cubes, and arrange in one layer over the syrup.
Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, Grand Marnier or Amaretto, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour evenly over the bread cubes. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove dish from refrigerator and let come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until puffed and edges are a light golden brown. Serve immediately, turning individual pieces over so that the caramel is on top.
Yield: 8-10 servings
Amy Silverstein lives in Weston with her husband, the Food Editor’s brother, and their four children. By necessity, Amy cooks dishes that are not only delicious, but also easy to prepare. We are looking forward to receiving more of Amy’s special recipes!