When you think of Food Network’s The Pioneer Woman — real name Ree Drummond — Yom Kippur probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. After all, Drummond and her family live on a large cattle ranch in Oklahoma, where much of her cooking involves feeding hard-working cowboys and kids from the back of her pickup truck. But we recently saw the repeat of an episode about one of her daughter’s sleep-over parties, in which breakfast was a baked French toast casserole. It dawned on us that this would be the perfect addition to the holiday break-the-fast meal.
Yom Kippur begins this Friday evening (with the break-the-fast on Saturday night), so if you’re hosting a gathering, you’re no doubt already deep into grocery shopping, cooking and baking. As we’ve pointed out before, the biggest challenge of a break-the-fast meal is that everything has to be assembled or at least partially prepped ahead of time, since you’re not supposed to do any work on Judaism’s holiest day of the year. Even Jews who normally don’t set foot inside a synagogue, usually observe Yom Kippur by participating in a day-long fast.
At the end of the fast, it’s traditional for friends and family to gather for a meal. Many people serve some form of brunch at night to wrap up the holiday. This usually means dairy and egg dishes, along with things such as bagels and lox. Drummond’s baked French toast fits right into this theme. And it’s ideal for serving a hungry crowd — thick and rich, with a little going a long way. Best of all, it can be prepared the day before and popped into the oven about an hour before guests arrive.
Other versions of this recipe have been around for a long time. In most, you start things off by tearing chunks of bread and putting them in a baking pan. Over the bread you pour a mixture of beaten eggs, milk, cream, sugar and vanilla. During a night in the fridge, the bread absorbs the liquid, becoming a golden, puffed-up custard as it bakes.
Drummond’s take on this classic casserole calls for a crumb topping made from butter, brown sugar and flour. This definitely kicks up the sweetness quotient. If you prefer, you can leave off the crumb topping and instead caramelize apples and then layer those on top of the bread mixture before baking. (Peel, core and cut six apples into ¼-inch-thick slices. Cook them in two tablespoons of butter for about 10 minutes until soft. Turn off the heat and stir in ½ cup of brown sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon.)
Or, you can bake the casserole without any topping at all and serve it with soft butter and syrup. Whichever way you go, it’s nice accompanied with fresh berries. Drummond uses sourdough or French bread, but if you want to give the dish more of a Jewish twist, you can use the egg bread, challah.
Pioneer Woman Cinnamon Baked French Toast
From: Ree Drummond
Butter for greasing the pan
1 loaf crusty sourdough or French bread
2 cups whole milk
½ cup whipping (heavy) cream
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
For the topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces, plus more for serving
Warm pancake syrup, for serving
1 cup fresh blueberries, for serving
1. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. To make the French toast, tear the bread into chunks, or cut into cubes and evenly distribute them in the pan.
2. Crack the eggs into a big bowl. Whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, sugars and vanilla. Pour this mixture evenly over the bread. Cover the pan tightly and store it in the fridge until needed (overnight preferably).
3. To make the topping, mix the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and some nutmeg in a separate bowl. Stir together using a fork. Add the butter and with a pastry cutter, mix it all together until the mixture resembles fine pebbles. Store tightly sealed in a closed container or a zip plastic bag in the fridge.
4. When you’re ready to bake the casserole, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the casserole from the fridge and sprinkle on the topping. Bake for 45 minutes for a softer, more bread pudding-like texture or for 1 hour or more for a firmer, crispier texture.
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5. Scoop out individual portions or cut into squares. Top with butter and drizzle with warm pancake syrup and sprinkle with blueberries. Store any leftovers in the fridge.
Recipe courtesy of Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, Food Network.