baked french toast + yogurt-covered-fruit.

As promised, I've got the recipes from Sunday's brunch with the girls. I don't usually try a new recipe for company, but these girls are more like family. The food could totally flop and we'd just keep on talking. Plus, I had frozen waffles and eggs on standby.
I love entertaining when I can enjoy it, which means finding something that's make-ahead friendly, with little assembly required. For years, I've enjoyed The BC's Challah French Toast, and her newest french toast recipe is just that, updated - it's baked and I now give it the advantage over the original.

Mari and I whipped up the egg mixture in 10 minutes or less, which is a super bonus for someone's not-so-long attention span - oh, the fascination that comes with orange zesting! The baking dish(es) were prepped and into the oven an hour before the first guest arrived. How easy is that.
This baked french toast was fluffy and crusty, savory and sweet - just the perfect balance of everything you want for breakfast. It's a a keeper, and while I followed The BC's recipe religiously, I did add some notes to her instructions.

The Barefoot Contessa's French Toast Bread Pudding from How Easy Is That?, page 18
Serves 8

1 challah loaf (a few days old is best), sliced 3/4 inch thick
8 extra large eggs
5 cups half-and-half or milk
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (about one big orange - save it for the recipe to follow)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Confectioners' sugar and maple syrup, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange the bread in two layers in a 9x13x2-inch baking dish, cutting the bread to fit the dish. I arranged a bit hap-hazardly for some rustic-ness. I suggest you're not going for perfection here. One more note on the bread: if your loaf is super fresh, bake it for 10 minutes at 350 before placing in dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, honey, orange zest, vanilla and salt. Pour the mixture over the bread and press down. A lot. At this point, you may think your bread will either float or drown in the amount of egg mixture, but give it time. It will soak and settle eventually. Walk away and let it do its thing, allowing it to soak for 10 minutes (I let it go for a whole 45).

Place the baking dish in a larger roasting pan and add enough very hot tap water to the roasting pan to come an inch up the side of the baking dish. Cover the roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil, tenting it so it doesn't touch the pudding. Make two slashes in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes, remove the aluminum foil and then bake another 40 to 45 minutes, until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set. Remove from oven and cool slightly.

Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve hot in squares with maple syrup.

I paired the breakfast taste explosion with blueberries and bananas, mixed wtih The BC's honey yogurt recipe. I love this tart yogurt, that like the mocktail, gets better with time and is a nice compliment to the custardy, sweet bread pudding.

The Barefoot Contessa's Honey Vanilla Yogurt, to mix with fruit salad
Serves: 4 to 6

2 cups plain yogurt (I prefer Greek to regular)
2 tablespoons good honey
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean, optional

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, honey, vanilla and seeds and chill for at least 30 minutes, or up to two days.

Cut, chop and combine fruit of your choice (see the original recipe for recommendations) in a large bowl. If using banana, toss it in orange juice to help it keep from browning.

Just before serving, top the fruit with the yogurt and gently stir to combine.
If you plan to serve this alongside the french toast bread pudding, the orange juice-drenched banana is a nice nod to the flecks of orange zest baked into the dish. It all works, you know what I mean?

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