“Jocelyn, come over. I’m making baked French toast for Dave and I.”
“I’m too hung over. I’m dying.”
“Bailey’s French toast will cure anything.”
“I can’t do it. I can’t handle daylight and outdoors yet.”
“Just call a car service. You’ll be here in 30 minutes. Come on, you know you want to.”
“I’ll never make it. It’s too far.”
“Do you want me to call for you?”
“No, I’ll have Jacqui make me French toast instead. How do you make it?”
“Milk, eggs, bread, sugar…”
“Oh my god! Jacquelyn!” Jocelyn starts banging on her sleeping roommate’s door. “We have eggs! We have milk! We have bread! Why aren’t you making me French toast? Debbie’s making Dave French toast!”
Jacquelyn locked the door and hid under the covers.
“You people are terrible friends,” said Jocelyn. “And you both owe me French toast.”
In her quintessential Jocelyn manner, seven years later the girl still likes to remind me that I owe her the French toast she was too hungover to cross the East River to get, so when she invited us over for champagne and tree-trimming this afternoon, I finally caved to her ridiculousness and baked some up. I mean, it’s not like I was complaining or anything; this stuff is the best.
And the easiest! Seriously, take one loaf of your choice of bread — I’ve made it with everything from Balthazar buttery brioche to Wonder bread and it’s always delicious — lay it out in one, two or three layers a well-buttered baking dish, pour an egg/milk custard over, flavored with your favorite blend of booze, extracts, zests, nuts, dried fruit — you name it — and then bake it for about half an hour. That’s it. That’s all there is. More bread pudding than classic French toast, you can even cut back the calories with lower fat milk or jack up the richness by buttering each slice of bread before arranging them in the pan.
Yet, the absolute best thing about this approach to French toast, and the reason I was drawn to it in the first place is that in making it the night before, it’s the perfect guests-for-brunch food as you have none of that standing over a pan cooking individual portions mess while people wonder where their host is, and really no work to do at all on the day of. Except, say, get your butt to where you’re going or risk waiting seven years to get your fill. That part’s all you.
Boozy Baked French Toast
1 loaf supermarket Challah bread in 1-inch slices, no need for the super-fancy stuff here
3 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Your choice of flavorings: I use 3 tablespoons Bailey’s and 3 tablespoons Cointreau, but Frangelico (hazelnut), Chambord (raspberry), Creme de Cassis (black currant) Grand Marnier or just a teaspoon or two of vanilla or almond extract can do the trick. You can bump up a citrus flavor with a teaspoon of zest, add a half-cup of chopped nuts such as almond slivers or pecans between layers or on top or a similar amount of raisins or other dried fruits.
1. Generously grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with salted (my choice) or unsalted butter.
2. Arrange bread in two tightly-packed layers in the pan. I always cut one slice into smaller pieces to fill in gaps, especially when using braided Challah. If using a thinner-sliced bread, you might wish for more layers, though I find that over three, even baking can be difficult. If you are using any fillings of fruit or nuts, this is the time to get them between the layers or sprinkled atop.
3. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, salt and booze or flavorings of your choice and pour over the bread. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
4. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The bread will absorb all of the milk custard while you sleep.
5. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden. This will take longer if you have additional layers.
6. Cut into generous squares and serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit, powdered sugar or all of the above.
Serves 6 as main course.