THE WASHINGTON POST – I’ve had something of a love affair with breakfast bakes over the years, making them sweet, with fruit and nuts, or savoury, with cheese and lots of vegetables, varying the type and cut of the bread and even calling it a different name – French toast bake or strata – depending on how it presents at the table.
The multitude of possibilities for working seasonal produce into an alluring, protein-packed morning meal is one aspect of the dish that draws me in, and the fuss-free make-ahead nature of it is another.
For me, there’s no better way to spend my weekend morning than quietly sipping a strong cup of coffee and reading the newspaper, so having a fabulous meal in the refrigerator that only needs to be popped in the oven is my idea of a good time. All I’m left to do is kick back and let the enticing aroma fill the room and rouse my appetite while the dish bakes.
This gently sweetened French toast version is brimming with fresh blueberries, brightened with a sunny burst of lemon zest, and topped with crunchy, sliced almonds. One key to success here is using the right bread. I suggest a whole-grain loaf from the bakery that is on the lighter side in colour, taste and weight.
A darker, denser bread will work fine, as would packaged whole-grain, sliced bread – as long as it’s not very moist, which would render the bake too mushy – but I find the fresh, summery, blueberry-lemon flavours here shine through best with a lighter loaf. The sliced bread is halved, then dunked into an egg-and-milk mixture that’s kissed with maple syrup, vanilla and lemon zest, then arranged in a baking dish like shingles on a roof.
The remaining egg mixture is poured over it, the berries are scattered on top, and the pan is covered and refrigerated overnight, allowing the bread to absorb all of the flavourful liquid.
In the morning, after being showered with sliced almonds, the dish bakes in the oven until it is fragrant, puffed and golden, the blueberries are nearly bursting with juicy sweetness, and the nuts are gently toasted.
The bake is a treat I whip up even if it’s just for my husband and me, because once baked, leftover individual portions reheat well in the microwave.
BLUEBERRY-LEMON WHOLE GRAIN FRENCH TOAST BAKE
Active time: 10 minutes;
Total time: One hour 10 minutes
Make Ahead: Assemble and refrigerate at least eight hours ahead of making.
– Unsalted butter or nonstick cooking spray, for coating the pan
– Two half cups (600 millilitres) milk (whole, low-fat or unsweetened oat)
– Six large eggs
– A quarter cup (60 millilitres) maple syrup, plus more for serving
– One tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from one large lemon)
– One teaspoon vanilla extract
– Eight (half-inch thick) slices whole-grain bread, day-old, halved lengthwise (eight ounces total)
– Two cups (290 grammes) fresh blueberries
– One-third cup (30 grammes) sliced almonds (optional)
Coat a nine-by-13-inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, maple syrup, lemon zest and vanilla.
Working with one piece of bread at a time, dip each piece into the egg mixture until it is just saturated, then place it into the baking pan, overlapping the slices slightly in a shingle-like formation. Pour the remaining egg mixture evenly over the bread in the pan and scatter the blueberries on top. Cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours or overnight.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
Uncover the pan, scatter with the almonds, if using, and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the French toast is golden and puffed, and the berries are dark and nearly bursting. Serve hot, with additional maple syrup on the side.