My ideal Mother's Day brunch includes one my very favorite breakfast casseroles: A simple strata of brioche bread, layered with lemon zest and custard, and baked until puffy, golden, and silky smooth inside.
This recipe is lightly adapted from one in my recent book, Not Your Mother's Casseroles.
• Not Your Mother's Casseroles, Harvard Common Press. $11.15 at Amazon.
It is so incredibly simple. Just slice any rich, eggy bread, such as brioche or challah. The finer-grained, the better. In other words, a dense, small-crumbed bread is better than a craggy rustic loaf. (The best this has ever turned out was when I used a dense, sweet Portuguese loaf from Whole Foods.)
Then you slice the bread, layer it in the dish, and sprinkle fresh lemon zest over the bread. Pour a barely-sweet custard of eggs and low-fat milk into the dish, and then it can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. After you bake it, the recipe calls for a thick, tangy lemon glaze of lemon juice and powdered sugar, which soaks into the French toast and makes up for the lack of sweetness in the custard.
This is simple, straightforward, and just plain delicious. It's full of lemony goodness, and it reheats beautifully, too.
For the baked French toast
One 16 to 20-ounce loaf brioche, challah, or other egg-enriched bread
2 lemons, zested and juiced
3 large eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 cups 2% milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
If planning to bake immediately, preheat the oven to 425éF. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or butter.
Slice the bread into 1/2-inch-thick slices, then cut each slice in half. Arrange half of the bread in overlapping layers in the baking dish. Sprinkle the bread with about half of the lemon zest.
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until well mixed, then whisk in the brown sugar. Whisk in the milk, vanilla, salt, nutmeg, and remaining lemon zest. Pour half of the custard over the bread. Layer the rest of the bread on top, and pour the rest of the custard over to coat. (At this point the casserole can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)
When ready to bake, take the casserole out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before baking. Heat the oven to 425°F. Bake the casserole for 30 minutes, or until slightly golden on top, and puffy.
Whisk the lemon juice with the confectioners' sugar and drizzle the glaze over the hot casserole. Put a few teaspoons of confectioners' sugar in a small sieve or strainer, and dust the top of the casserole by tapping the strainer lightly over it.
Let the casserole cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve in large slices, with raspberries on the side.
For the minted raspberries
12 ounces red raspberries, lightly washed and picked over
1/4 cup dry cava wine
1/4 cup loosely-packed mint leaves
Toss the raspberries, gently, with the cava. Chop the mint leaves very fine and toss with the berries as well. Refrigerate until serving.
Reprinted with permission from Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand. (Harvard Common Press, 2011).
(Images: Faith Durand)