What is that glorious scent? Something warm and eggy in the air is pulling me out of a deep sleep. It’s calling me, more and more forcefully, urging me to wake up and make my way to the kitchen.
Incredibly I resist wakefulness. I’m so tired. I went to bed at 3:30 a.m. after baking the crust for a lemon meringue tart that we’ll be enjoying after our Easter feast. I’m soooooo tired. I can’t get up! I won’t get up!
But wait … there it is again. That mouth-watering smell now yanking at my senses and literally pulling my eyelids open. My head makes its own way from out under the covers, all the better to get at that olfactory feast in the air. Before I know it, my hands are reaching out and stretching. I can’t take it anymore. Even though I’m still bone-tired, I have to get up and discover what the yumminess is that has awoken me.
Bleary-eyed I make my way gingerly down the stairs. I shuffle into the kitchen and am instantly enveloped in the oven’s warmth. And perched on the stove, like a trophy, is the source of the aroma that is making my mouth water in anticipation. It’s the pan of Lemony Bread-Pudding French Toast that I’d prepared the night before … or wait … was it in the wee hours of this same morning? Hmmm … don’t remember and quite frankly don’t care either!
I rush to the refrigerator and dig madly for the little tub of crÃ¨me fraÃ®che hiding behind two legs of lamb, bunches of broccoli raab, stuffed olives waiting to be fried, the lemon curd filling for my tart, green beans, two huge bags of salad that I painstakingly washed, a container of artichoke pÃ¢tÃ© for the antipasto, a hunk of Gorgonzola, more lemons than I can count, a package containing a pound and a half of thinly-sliced Prosciutto di Parma, grape tomatoes and a beautiful bunch of red grapes. Somewhere, behind all that food, my now wide-awake fingers find the precious tub. As I pull my arm out I almost knock over a bottle of Riesling, but at this point I’m too frantic to care.
I serve myself a most generous slice of french toast, pile on the crÃ¨me fraÃ®che and drown it all in pure maple syrup. I’m not even fully-seated at the kitchen table before I already have a huge piece of french toast in my mouth. I look like Nigella Lawson downing Yorkshire pudding covered in cream and golden syrup. But I don’t care. I’m in heaven.
And then it slowly comes back to me. I remember buying the white sandwich bread at the supermarket (yes … I know … refined white bread is bad for you but what can I say … it’s my weakness). I remember mixing together eggs and milk and deciding to use five eggs even though the recipe called for six. I remember buttering a glass baking dish and stacking twelve slices of bread in four piles of three. I remember pouring the egg and milk mixture on the bread and mushing it down with my fingers. I remember covering the dish and tucking it away in the refrigerator (how did I manage to close the door with all that food in there?) to sit overnight.
The rest is a blur. Something to do with a tart crust, washing salad, using the food processor to make an artichoke appetizer and stumbling into bed exhausted. The unbelievably luscious french toast has now revived me enough to figure out that my lovely mamma put the dish in the oven about an hour earlier to bake into a puffed and golden dish of goodness.
But most importantly, I remember that it’s Easter morning. The sun is shining. My mother and I are enjoying our brunch dish, feeling our spirits lift and energizing ourselves for the hours to come when we will be preparing lunch for thirteen people.
I remember. And I am so happy.
Lemony Bread-Pudding French Toast
Adapted from Lemon Zest by Lori Longbotham.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
- 5 large eggs (original recipe uses 6 eggs)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 12 slices white bread (I used Wonder Bread, but Lori suggests using Pepperidge Farm Original White bread.)
- 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- pure maple syrup
- Bring the milk just to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the lemon zest. Allow to steep for 10 minutes and then pour the milk through a sieve to remove the zest. Allow the milk to cool for an additional 15 minutes.
- Whisk together the eggs and vanilla extract. Add the milk and whisk well.
- Butter an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Arrange the bread in the dish in 4 stacks of 3 slices. You may have to squish the sides of the bread together to get it all to fit in.
- Slowly pour the egg/milk mixture over the bread. You may have to stop every once and a while to allow the liquid to seep in. Once you’ve poured it all in, press down on the bread with your fingers to submerge the bread. Cover the dish and refrigerate it overnight.
- In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar into a paste. Spread over the top of the french toast.
- Bake the french toast for an hour or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
- Let the french toast cool for 10 minutes and then serve with maple syrup and crÃ¨me fraÃ®che if you have it!
Note: This recipe serves 4 to 6 people. The only recommendation that I would make that is different from the original recipe is that you put the dish on a baking sheet before putting it into the oven. It rises quite a bit and you may have some liquid fall over the side onto the floor of your oven. The baking sheet will protect your oven from any spills.