I WISH I could experience Christmas morning as a child again. There’s no better day for a child than Christmas day. The anticipation is excruciating. The time goes by so slowly; it seems like it will NEVER be here. Then it happens, the sleepless night on Christmas Eve, waking early to the delight of parents everywhere (NOT!), sitting on the stairs waiting to see what Santa stuffed in our stockings. Ripping up presents as fast as our parents can hand them to us. Then the euphoria afterward, sitting in an ocean of presents, wrapping paper, boxes and ribbons. Bliss.
Finally, we realize we’re hungry. For my family, we didn’t have a big Christmas dinner. Instead, we had a large breakfast. Cheesy scrambled eggs, mandarin oranges, sausage links and butterhorns loaded with frosting and nuts. Bliss, round two.
The only thing better than being a child at Christmas is experiencing it through your own children. As a child, you don’t realize how much effort it takes for parents to pull off a perfect Christmas morning. The preparation it takes is exhausting sometimes, but so worth it. The look in their eyes is priceless. The smiles of surprise, the joy and squeals of delight that can’t be captured in a photograph, but are forever etched in your heart.
To make Christmas morning easier, I’m offering a French toast casserole. French toast has always been my favorite breakfast, but it’s time consuming to make. I don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen on Christmas morning. I don’t want to miss a moment. This casserole can be prepared the night before and placed in the oven the following morning. An added bonus; it has the wonderful surprise of apples on the bottom.
I recommend using challah bread. You could make if from scratch if you’re so inclined, but it’s available in most grocery stores this time of year. I purchased mine at Fire Island Bakery, which I highly recommend. My children love going there with me and nibbling on their tasty samples. The staff is so friendly and helpful. If you don’t have challah, use your favorite bread. I think the cinnamon chip bread at Great Harvest would be incredible also.
Make-Ahead Cinnamon-Apple French Toast Casserole
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, divided
1 tsp. cinnamon, divided
3 apples, cored and sliced thin (if not organic, peel the apples)
1 loaf of challah, about 1 ½ pounds
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup pecans (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 (unless baking it the following day). Mix together melted butter and ½ cup brown sugar. Spread the mixture in the bottom of a 9X13 pan. As you slice the apples, place them in a bowl with ¼ cup brown sugar and ½ tsp. cinnamon. Mix well, and place an even layer of apples on top of the melted butter mixture. Slice the challah into 1-inch slices, then into cubes. In a bowl, mix eggs, milk, cinnamon and vanilla. Add challah and let soak in the milk mixture before adding entire mixture to the pan on top of the apples. Sprinkle pecans on top, if using. Bake right away, or cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for 20-30 minutes before placing in a 350 oven for about 50 minutes.
Serve with maple syrup and powdered sugar.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Enjoy it through the eyes of a child!