Mythical Sunday Morning French Toast For A Crowd

We've always loved French Toast and have long thought it to be a creation of the French called "pain perdu" . . . smartly made from slightly stale bread as absolutely no food goes to waste in France. That was wrong, a food myth running wild. Instead, we've learned that bread soaked in milk and then fried has been around since the Roman Empire collected in the culinary Apicius in the 5th century A.D. . . . and legend has it that it was created by Apicius, a gourmet and a "lover of luxury" who lived in the era of Tiberius in the 1st century A.D. It reemerged when it became "all the rage" in the 15th century English court of Henry V and even more popular when it was reintroduced in 1724 by Joseph French, an Albany, NY Innkeeper who forgot the apostrophe and called it French Bread.

Our own newest version (having indulged for years with our own version of Grand Marnier soaked croissant "French Toast" uses an entire loaf of our favorite local raisin bread (baked by an elegant wise Viennese baker) and is so delicious that every time we serve it we're besieged by requests for the recipe from the Breakfast crowd at Wickwood. So we'll keep it secret no longer . . . that's what cooking is all about. We serve it lavishly sprinkled with berries and drizzled with warmed Spiced Blueberry Syrup, Local Maple Syrup, or sometimes, our favorite, Bourbon Maple Syrup. Make it your own, go for it . . . the variations are endless. Serves 6-8

* 1 loaf of 8-10" round Challah, Brioche, or favorite raisin bread
* 5 eggs
* 1¼ cups whole or 2% Milk (or equal amounts of heavy cream and milk)
* ½ cup sugar
* 1 tablespoon cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 4 tablespoons butter, melted
* 1 tablespoon raw sugar
* Confectioner’s sugar, for serving
* Maple syrup, for serving

1) THE NIGHT BEFORE: Be prepared to slice the loaf of bread and leave out on counter in un-buttered 9x13 pan. This will crisp the slices.

2) Cut the loaf of bread into ½ inch thick slices, but don't cut all the way to the bottom (this way, the slices stay attached to each other.) Leave, uncovered, overnight in a cool dry place.

3) The next day, preheat the oven to 350F. Using a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk to combine. Whisk the sugar and cinnamon together, then add to the eggs. Stir in the vanilla extract.

4) Butter the bottom of the casserole liberally. Place the bread in the casserole, cutting the loaf in half and placing the halves side by side if necessary. Baste the bread with the custard, (using a baster, if possible) taking care to drizzle in between the slices to fully coat the bread. Repeat twice more until you have little custard left in the bottom of the casserole.

5) Brush the butter over the top of the bread, and sprinkle it with the raw sugar. Transfer the casserole to the oven and bake until the top is golden and crisp, approximately 50- 55 minutes.

6) Let the French toast cool slightly, place on a serving platter, then finish with a sprinkle of confectioners' sugar, fresh blueberries, and raspberries. Serve with the warmed syrup of your choice. ENJOY IMMENSELY!