As a non-religious Jew, I celebrate the fun holidays of every faith. Passover is lovely because there’s a plate of tasty symbolic foods like shankbone, and we get drink a lot of wine while reciting the plagues in a booming voice (“BOILS! FROGS! PESTILENCE!”). Then an angel visits our dining room late at night to drink the leftover wine. And Easter is joyous because we color eggs and wait for a giant bunny to hide things in the house while we’re asleep. I wonder why so many holidays feature nocturnal visitors?
Last week featured both Easter and Passover and, while I didn’t celebrate either one, I felt I ought to do something colorful and Jewish. Judging from the crowds that swarm our local breakfast nooks after the church bells ring, eating a delectable brunch seems to be the highlight of the Easter holiday. So I baked some challah for Passover and used the leftovers to make French toast for an Easter Sunday brunch.
Later that day, I made Scottish shortbread for a friend’s Easter party at which, like a bad Easter Jew, I ate a ham.For my Passeaster Challah French Toast, I adapted Smitten Kitchen's award-winning recipe for Boozy Baked French Toast.I didn't have the right type of booze to follow the recipe (I didn't think red wine French toast would really taste that great), so I used SK's vanilla extract suggestion instead. I chose to sprinkle my toast with hazelnuts, so I gave them a good toasting first. And I attempted to make the recipe slightly healthier by using skim milk in place of whole. And the finished (slightly blurry) product: This was very, very nice and custardy. I'll definitely make Passeaster Challah French Toast again soon. But next time, I think I'll use pecans—and booze.
The original recipe:
(Disclaimer: Smitten's photos put mine to shame. If you must compare, please do not judge High Heels too harshly!)
Boozy Baked French Toast
From Smitten Kitchen
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.