Every year, as Easter approaches, I begin to think about one of my favorite brunch recipes. It has become a tradition in our home to make this easy and delicious dish: Crème Brûlée French Toast.
Whether you are feeding a hungry crowd or a family of four, Crème Brûlée French Toast makes a decadent brunch, without a lot of fuss. You can make this dish ahead of time and put it in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, pop it in the oven, and it's ready to be enjoyed.
I really like how versatile the recipe is and how you can customize it by adding many different seasonal fruits. Here is my recipe:
Start with a 10 x 13 baking dish. At home, I prefer Pyrex. It heats evenly and you can see when the French toast is baked thoroughly. Melt 1-1/2 sticks of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 1 cup of packed brown sugar. It really doesn’t matter if it’s light or dark brown—whatever you have is fine. Add 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. I like to use a darker grade, such as B Grade or what is now known as Grade A Very Dark Amber Color. The darker the maple syrup, the deeper the flavor. Pour the butter and brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the 10 x 13 baking dish.
Here is where my Crème Brûlée French Toast departs from most recipes you may find—I use butter croissant for the “toast.” Slice four butter croissants in half lengthwise and arrange them on top of the butter and brown sugar in a single layer in the baking dish with the cut side down. Fill in any gaps with pieces of croissant. Naturally, I am partial to Tarte’s butter croissants. There are no preservatives—just butter, flour, sugar, milk, yeast and salt. You can freeze them in a plastic bag and they will keep for several weeks.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together 6 eggs, 2 cups of half and half and 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. Make sure it’s pure vanilla extract—it makes a difference. For even greater vanilla flavor, I use vanilla bean paste. Add ½ teaspoon of salt. Once this is mixed together, it is known as the custard. Pour the custard over the croissants. They should be almost fully immersed. Refrigerate for at least an hour so that the croissants can soak up the custard.
After it has properly chilled, remove the dish from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Bake uncovered in a preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned.
I recommend serving this with some warm maple syrup or a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. You may also want to top it with fresh fruits—strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, pears….it works with almost any fruit. Try this variation: line the baking pan with sliced bananas and a little melted butter. Cover with the croissant and then the custard. Bake. Serve topped with butter, maple syrup and sliced bananas for a French toast that tastes like Bananas Foster! This dish serves six people. Let me know how you like it!
Happy Easter! And, enjoy!