French Toast – Crowd Pleasing Brunch Edition

French Toast casserole style made with store bought cinnamon bread and fresh berries

This weeks recipe is a super easy way to make French Toast for a crowd. Typically if you’re making French Toast or pancakes for a large group, there’s inevitably someone waiting around hungry while whoever’s cooking is furiously trying to get fresh and hot pancakes/French Toast served as quick as possible. Not only is this extremely stressful for the cook it’s not particularly conducive for folks to gather around the table and eat at the same time.

Essentially what we’re making here is a French Toast Casserole or bread pudding. For added convenience, I used store bought, pre-sliced cinnamon bread that I cut diagonally and let sit out on a wire rack for an hour so that it would start to stale. This allows the bread to absorb more of the custard without becoming a soggy slimy mess. Alternately you can toast the bread but that’s one more step and this is all about ease and convenience.

To augment the menu, I’d suggest having things like granola, yogurt with fresh fruit, baked eggs, quiche or a Spanish style tortilla and sausage/bacon which you can bake ahead and warm up along side the French toast the last 15 minutes of baking. Here’s the recipe:

Recipe

  • 1 egg for every 4 slices of bread
  • 2 slices of bread per person
  • 1 cup half/half for every 4 slices of bread
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 TBS brown sugar for 4 slices of bread
  • butter or cooking spray
  • pinch of salt
  • fresh berries (optional)
  • Powered sugar (optional)

Spray a large casserole pan with cooking spray or coat with butter and set aside. In a large bowl, mix half/half, eggs, sugar, salt and cinnamon until well combined and set aside. Arrange sliced cinnamon bread in the casserole dish and then pour the custard mixture over the bread. Let sit for 15 minutes to ½ hour so the custard can be absorbed by the bread. Preheat oven to 350F. Bake casserole at 350F for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the egg mixture is set in the middle. To serve, dust with powdered sugar and top with fresh berries. That’s it, and it’s that easy.

White Chocolate and Citrus Confetti Cake with White Chocolate Citrus Buttercream

4 layers of cake with layers of curd and buttercream standing tall

There’s this misconception that a lot of people have that baking is super complicated and requires people to be super precise. I argue for most cakes, muffins and cookies that home cooks are inclined to attempt, that’s not the case. Like with all cooking, being organized is the secret to success. Reading the recipe thoroughly a few times, assembling and prepping all your ingredients before starting any part of the cooking/baking process is essential to a successful result.

One of the things I like about baking, is that by simply swapping out an ingredient here and there you can completely change the flavor profile of what is essentially the same recipe. Case in point…the cake pictured above is the same base as the Peppermint Chocolate Layer Cake from a few months ago. I just swapped out white chocolate for the cocoa and dark chocolate and swapped out citrus for the peppermint oil and instead of crushed peppermint candy between layers, I used sprinkles and crushed Belgian Butter Cookies and Corn Flakes. Then I used the same method for assembling the cake. Otherwise the only other thing that was done differently, is that I baked the cake in 2 sheet pans and then used the outer ring of my springform pan to cut out the individual layers. It turns out that the cake cooks more evenly, faster and the top is more level than if you use round cake pans.

So my hope is if you learn anything at all here its that you discover that these are just ideas and you can riff off of any of them by changing ingredients here and there.

Here are the ingredients to make this particular cake,

Ingredients

  • 3 cups AP flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp each lemon and orange extract
  • 8 oz. melted white chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 TBS each lemon zest and orange zest
  • 3/4 cup rainbow sprinkles/jimmies
  • Icing (see below)
  • 2 cups lemon curd
  • 1 cup of assorted sprinkles for decorating

Place a clean glass or stainless steal bowl over a pot of lightly boiling water to make a double boiler. Break the chocolate into small chunks and place into the bowl, stir until all the chocolate has melted. Set aside to let cool. While the chocolate is cooling, assemble the rest of the cake ingredients. In a large bowl, combine, flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and set aside. In another bowl, mix the oil, water, sour cream, vanilla extract, citrus extract and eggs lightly until combined then slowly pour into the dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined by hand or with an electric mixer. Slowly mix in the melted chocolate. Divide batter evenly between 2 prepared ½ sheet pans and bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from the oven to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then remove from the pans and let cool completely before icing.

Ingredients

  • 1lb unsalted butter (softened and room temperature)
  • 12 oz white chocolate chips
  • 2lb powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp each lemon and orange extract
  • 1 tsp each lemon and orange zest
  • 2 TBS corn syrup
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup cornflakes

Use a double boiler or microwave to melt white chocolate chips and set aside to cool. Once the white chocolate has cooled but is still liquid, whip butter in a large bowl or stand mixer with whisk attachment on high speed until the butter turns pale yellow. Scrap down the sides of the bowl add zest, vanilla extract, citrus extract and whisk on medium speed until flavoring is incorporated. With the mixer on low, slowly drizzle in the white chocolate and add the corn syrup*. Turn the mixer off and scrap down the sides. Add ⅓ of the powder sugar and turn the mixer on to low, mix until the powered sugar is thoroughly incorporated, turn off the mixer and scrap down the sides between each addition. Continue until all the powdered has been added. You should hear the motor of the mixer slow down. Now gradually start adding the heavy whipping cream. Your looking for a nice spreadable/pipable texture that’s not too loose. The icing should be airy but still hold a peak so you may not need all the cream.

For assembly

Use the outer ring of a springform pan, or a make a 6″circle out of cardboard to cut out 3 layers from you sheet cakes. Crumble the remaining scraps, to use as your base layer. Slowly build your layers, cake, curd, buttercream, sprinkles and cornflakes. Then keep repeating that process. At the top, you can drizzle some lemon curd, or pipe buttercream roses and finish the rest of the sprinkles.

Irish Brown Bread

I try to bake something from scratch at least once a week and since St. Patrick’s Day is next week I decided to make Brown Bread. Brown Bread is a whole wheat quick bread that uses baking soda (bread soda/bicarbonate of soda) as the leavener instead of yeast. Its slightly sweet and dense in a stick to your ribs kind of way. I love it toasted with butter and a pinch of salt.

Here’s the recipe;

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup A/P flour (plus extra for kneading and to prepare baking tin/sheet)

2 TBS molasses or honey

pinch of salt

1 tsp baking soda

3 1/2 cups buttermilk

2 TSP vegetable oil

2 TBS oats (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the molasses, buttermilk and oil together and gradually add to the dry ingredients until a dough forms (you may not need all the buttermilk). Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead into a ball.

Score an cross into the top and brush with buttermilk and top with the oats.

Place loaf onto a floured and parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until the loaf has a hollow sound when you tap the bottom of it.

Remove from the oven and wrap with a tea towel and place upside down on a wire rack to cool. This will help keep the crust from becoming too hard.

To store, place in a zip top bag so the loaf stays moist.

 

Meal prepping and such

Shepherd’s Pie topped off with colcannon and a mix of cheddar and parmesan cheese.

We’re trying to be better about planning meals for the week, so we’re going to give meal prepping a go again. This week I made Enchilada Suiza and Shepherd’s/Cottage Pie in large 9×13 casseroles that I froze as well as single serving portions for lunches and dinners this week.

Since it’s March, and St. Patrick’s Day is a few weeks away I thought I’d share my recipe for Shepherd’s Pie/Cottage Pie. Shepherd’s Pie now  refers to a casserole with any type of meat that’s topped with mashed potatoes but traditionally Shepherd’s Pie used lamb and Cottage Pie used beef. My version of Shepherd’s Pie uses ground turkey for no other reason than that’s what we had in the house and I top my pie with colcannon, which are super buttery mashed potatoes that are combined with sautéed garlic and kale. This recipe will be enough to make two 9×13 casseroles worth of Shepherd’s Pie. Here’s the recipe.

Shepherd’s Pie Filling

3 LBS ground turkey

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup chopped or grated carrot

1 garlic clove finely minced

2 TBS tomato paste

2 TBS Worcestershire Sauce

salt and pepper to taste

1 TBS corn starch or flour

¾ cup chicken or beef stock

oil for cooking

In a large skillet, heat cooking oil over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add the onions, carrots and garlic to the oil and cook over medium high heat until they are soft and the onions start to turn translucent. Push the onion/carrot mixture to the side and add the ground turkey stirring frequently until the turkey browns. Add in the tomato paste, salt and pepper, and Worcestershire sauce mixing thoroughly so that the tomato paste is incorporated. Place the flour/starch into a bowl or measuring cup then add the stock. Mix with a fork until the starch/flour is dissolved. Pour into ground turkey and stir. Turn the heat down to medium low and let cook for about 5 minutes to cook the flour/starch then remove from heat and set aside.

Colcannon

3 large russet potatoes peeled and cut into1 inch cubes

2 cups chopped kale

1 clove garlic finely minced

2 scallions finely minced

1 TBS bacon fat

3 strips of bacon cooked until crispy and crumbled (reserve the bacon fat)

1 stick/8TBS of soften butter

½ cup heavy cream

4 cups grated cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste

1 TBS salt for bowling with the potatoes

Place the peeled and cubed potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold water so that the potatoes are just covered. Add in 1 TBS of salt and bring to a boil. Boil over high heat until the potatoes are soft when poked with a fork. This should take about 15 minutes.

While the Potatoes are cooking saute the kale, garlic in 1 TBS of bacon fat until the garlic browns and the kale starts to wilt. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain in a colander and then return the potatoes to the pot over medium low heat. Add the softened butter and cream and mash with a potato masher or use a hand mixer to mash. Taste for seasoning. Add in the crumbled bacon and sautéed kale and stir together.

Assembly

Preheat oven to 350F. Divide meat mixture and place into baking dishes flatten with a wood spoon. Top the meat mixture with the colcannon and then top with the grated cheese. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes until the cheese is melted. Enjoy.