I began my gastronomic journey (I hate the term “foodie) when I interned in D.C. the summer before my senior year in college. I had always enjoyed cooking, but this was the first time I was consistently cooking meals for myself. I got lonely in my little studio, so the Food Network kept me company. Weeks before my then-boyfriend (now husband) visited on the weekends, I researched restaurants in the city. We loved making French toast (his favorite) for breakfast and sharing crème brûlée for dessert as it wasn’t overly sweet.
Fast forward 10 years: We have a baby and he’s celebrating his 31st birthday. Our little bun was barely 3 months old. I was still exhausted but I didn’t want to overlook his birthday, so I invited his friends over for brunch and the NFL. That’s when I discovered this Baked Crème Brûlée French Toast recipe. I’ve tweaked it many times over since then and it’s now my go-to recipe for brunch – and one of his favorites. I love this dish for 2 reasons:
- Prep ahead. I make this dish the night before and pop it in the oven an hour before guests arrive. This means I can make the dish while the little bun is asleep AND I’m still able to socialize with guests instead of being tied to the kitchen.
- Easy-peasy. Even though it sounds fancy, being a crème brûlée, it’s not that difficult and it’s delicious-ness pays off in spades.
The recipe is below, but pay attention to my Prep Tips to make this dish extra special.
1 loaf Brioche or Challah bread
2 and ¼ cups milk
8 large eggs
1 cup + 4-5 Tbsp granulated vanilla sugar (Prep Tip: Vanilla sugar is super easy to make. Just use a separate canister for the sugar and keep 2 vanilla beans inside. Done.)
1/4 t fine sea salt or table salt
1 tsp Grand Marnier or another orange liqueur
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cardamom
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Butter 9×13 baking pan with 1 Tbsp butter.
Slice bread into 1/2” thick slices and then cut slices into cubes. (Prep Tip: The smaller the cubes, the fewer “ridges” in the custard and the more evenly it will caramelize.)
Combine 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 Tbsp vanilla sugar and toss with bread cubes in baking pan.
Combine eggs, milk, 1 cup vanilla sugar, salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp cardamom, 2 tsp vanilla extract, Grand Marnier, and 2 T melted butter in a large bowl. Whisk together until well incorporated. (Prep Tip: Beat egg whites separately before combining all liquids. This will make the custard fluffier.)
Pour custard mixture over bread cubes, pressing cubes down to thoroughly soak bread. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit. Bake approximately 40-50 minutes until golden brown and set. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining 3-4 Tbsp of sugar over the top of the custard in an even, heavy layer. Set broiler on high and return to oven for 1-2 minutes or use a kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar. The sugar will turn brown and liquefy and then harden as it cools. Serve warm with maple syrup if desired.
Enjoy and don’t forget to enjoy your extra time with your guests! What are your favorite prep-ahead recipes?
Download a printable copy of the recipe Recipe: Baked Creme Brulee French Toast.