This previous Saturday the Cherry Creek Chorale held the first of four special Saturday-morning rehearsals as we prepare for our October concert. To add a note of conviviality—and to encourage attendance—breakfast is traditionally served at 8:30 before we get to work at 9:00. It’s always hard to know how many attendees to plan for, as it seems to be the case that since Saturday counts as somewhat of a “makeup” rehearsal that can replace a regular one (and we’re supposed to miss no more than two regular rehearsals for any given concert), some people who are planning to come on Saturday don’t come on that week’s Tuesday night session. But that’s when I take a (very rough) head count, and I often come away with a mistaken notion of how many people are going to come. So why don’t I just add 15-20 to the total? Well, I’ve done that in the past, but those times always seem to be the ones when fewer than I had planned on end up coming. Ya can’t win!
But for this past Saturday I really did run short of the main dish, something I should have foreseen since it’s always so wildly popular. I was kind of hoping for leftovers, but ha! I forsook my own principle, which is that if the item is something that keeps well there’s no reason not to make plenty. I had a brief qualm Friday night as I was putting the casseroles together, but I reassured myself that four panfuls would be fine. It was 9:00 or so, and I wasn’t going to stay up and Bake another batch of apples. Well, there it is.
The recipe itself is one that I inherited from Jim’s Aunt Cynthia, who, funnily enough, doesn’t like sweets. She’s made it at family reunions before and people practically licked out the pans. With all due respect to this great recipe, though, my son and I have agreed that it has its flaws. For one thing, it has you start out with raw apples, and they don’t really get tender in the amount of baking time specified. For another, the apple juices mixed with the Butter and brown sugar make for a lot of liquid in the bottom of the pan, and it’s not always possible for people to spoon it over their servings, especially if you’re trying to get them to move quickly through a line. Plus, it’s too sweet! And it has too much butter. It calls for a whole cup of sugar and a whole stick of butter for a 9×13 panful. So I cut the sugar and butter amounts in half, with the option of using some of the leftover butter to melt and brush over the top. And I pre-cooked the apples, mixing the butter, brown sugar and apples together in the pan that’s going to be used for the final dish and baking it uncovered, stirring it several times. This process of cooking down the apples and juices takes a surprisingly long time, at least 45 minutes at 3500. Then, if you’ve gotten up at the crack of dawn to do your prep you can let the apples cool slightly, put the egg-and-milk soaked bread slices on top and shove it back in the oven to bake for an additional 35-40 minutes. (You want the apples to cool off a little so that the bread slices bake more evenly.) But if you want to do your prep totally in advance you can cook and cool the apples, layer on the soaked bread, and then cover with foil and refrigerate. The next morning just take out the pans and let them sit for 30 minutes or so to warm up a little and then bake. You can take off the foil and brush the tops of the bread with butter and end up with a somewhat crispy top; if you don’t care all that much and just want to get the thing done, put them in the oven covered and leave it at that.
Here’s the tweaked recipe:
Debi's Caramel Apple French Toast Casserole
A great make-ahead dish to serve at a breakfast or brunch that will have people begging for seconds and the recipe.
- 3 large apples, (preferably Granny Smith or other crisp, not-too-sweet variety, cored and thinly sliced, peeled or unpeeled as you prefer)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, (preferably dark brown)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 12 1" slices French bread, (or enough to completely cover the top of the casserole)
Mix apples, butter and brown sugar in the pan you're going to use for the casserole itself. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the apples coated with the sugar/butter. If you're planning to bake the casserole uncovered then leave the mixture still a bit soupy. If you're planning to bake it covered, let the sauce cook down until it's thick. You don't want the apples to get leathery, though. Take the apples out of the oven and let cool while you prepare the bread.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon in some kind of flat container that will allow you to put bread slices down flat. Soak the bread and arrange on top of the apples, doing your best to cover the apples completely. If you want a buttery, crisp top then melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and brush over the bread.
You can bake the casserole right away, with a bake time of around 30 minutes. Temp in the middle should be at least 160 degrees. Or you can cover with foil and refrigerate overnight, baking it the next morning. If you do that, take the pan out of the fridge half an hour before you bake it so you're not putting it into the oven ice cold. Bake for 35-40 minutes. You can bake it covered or uncovered, as you prefer. If you're taking the casserole somewhere else to serve it, you're probably best off leaving it covered to help keep it warm and prevent spills.
This recipe will make a half-size disposable foil panful for use in a standard chafing dish. You can multiply it as needed!
Breakfast For a Crowd—Lessons Learned and a New Recipe