Make-Ahead Vanilla Bean French Toast
The enriched breads challah and brioche make especially decadent French toast, since they soak up the custard well and also add a richness of their own. And, because this beautiful dish can be assembled the night before it’s baked, it’s an ideal dish for serving at a brunch celebration or to a house full of guests.
- 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
- 1 loaf challah or brioche, about 1 lb. (500 g), cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) slices
- 6 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml) half-and-half
- 1/4 cup (2 oz./60 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
- Kosher salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) maple syrup
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (2 oz./60 g) fresh raspberries
- 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g) sliced almonds
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Preheat an oven to 425°F (220°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33-cm) baking dish. Set aside.
Arrange the bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast until the bread is lightly golden brown and dry, about 7 minutes, flipping the slices about halfway through the cooking time. Transfer the bread slices to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, brown sugar, lemon zest and a pinch of salt. With the tip of a paring knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean halves into the egg mixture and whisk to combine; reserve the vanilla bean halves. In batches, dip the bread slices into the egg mixture, turning the slices to coat them evenly and letting the bread sit in the bowl for about 2 minutes to absorb the liquid.
Arrange the bread slices in the prepared baking dish, overlapping them slightly. Pour any remaining egg mixture in the bowl evenly over the bread in the dish. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Preheat an oven to 350°F (180°C).
Transfer the dish, still covered with the foil, to the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the dish, increase the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C) and continue baking until the French toast is puffed up and browned, about 15 minutes more.
While the French toast is cooking, in a small saucepan over low heat, combine the maple syrup and the 2 Tbs. butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter has melted, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
Pour the maple syrup evenly over the French toast. Sprinkle the French toast evenly with the raspberries and almonds. Garnish with the reserved vanilla bean halves, if desired. Dust the French toast with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.
Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen