We recently spent the week in Park City, Utah with our grandchildren. Layla, who had just turned 3, went skiing for the first time. It’s amazing how kids manage to make everything look so easy and seem to have no fear. When I asked her to show me how to ski she told me to put my hands on my knees, crouch down, and make a pizza with my feet. Yah, right!!!
Obviously 3 is the perfect age to learn – not the golden years when height and speed aren’t exactly considered “fun”. (Nothing is more humbling then to fall and have a 3 or 4 year old ask if they can help you get back on your skis).
Ski weekends are active and busy – especially mornings when everyone is trying to rush out the door to be first on the mountain. Avid skiers wait for “fresh powder”, and spring time in Utah combines that with sunny skies and warm temperatures. Needless to say breakfast is always a rushed affair which means planning ahead.
“Overnight French Toast” can be assembled a day ahead, refrigerated, and baked first thing in the morning. It’s essentially a bread pudding – a mixture of eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and chunks of bread.
Challah – a rich egg bread – is preferable but if you happen to have sandwich or French bread around that’s fine. It’s also a way to sneak whole wheat bread into the mix (as long as it’s light and not an artisinal loaf which is too dense).
What’s more it’s a great activity for youngsters because they can tear up bread, beat eggs, and help to layer ingredients in a pan. At least, Layla thought so. When she wasn’t skiing she followed me around everywhere I went. I couldn’t boil water without her clinging to my side. She’d push a chair right next to me and say “I can do it” no matter what “IT” was. If she had a choice between watching her favorite video – Happy Feet- or cooking – she wanted to cook.
My grandmother and mother always saved stale bread. If they didn’t feed it to the birds they used it to stuff chickens or turkeys, make crumbs, fruit buckles or puddings. Nothing was ever thrown out. They both had large families and waste was avoided at all costs. They also had to prepare meals ahead of time to accommodate numbers.
I learned to do that when I cooked for the faculty (although students quickly learned that if they “forgot their lunch” they would always be fed) at Boston’s Roxbury Latin School (the oldest continuing school in North America – which the headmaster never let me forget).
I’d even prepare muffin and cookie batter the day before and bake them off the next day. (It works for any batter). They actually taste better after sitting overnight. It isn’t necessary to have house guests or cook for an army of students/faculty to employ the same techniques.
Cooking ahead (and refrigerating the dish until ready to use) is a great way to spend leisure time assembling a meal or to enjoy a project with grandchildren who love to cook!
Cook Nonna Cook
Obtaining this recipe was a little like playing “broken telephone”, because it was passed down from one friend to another, who originally got it from a mother, who got it from a friend.
Needless to say, the recipe got reinterpreted as it changed hands. But, that’s what’s so wonderful about sharing recipes; each person gets to tweak and put her own stamp on it.
I got the recipe from Susan Markson, who got it from Ronni Baron, who got it from Margie Huggard, who got it from Beth Israel. So, I’m not sure who to attribute this recipe to but am very glad to have it.
Each one of them is a grandmother who enjoys cooking with her grandchildren.
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 loaf Challah or French bread, sliced 1 inch thick (the crust can be left on or removed)
6 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups 2% or whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon mixed with 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Maple syrup, for drizzling (optional)
Have on hand a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Set the oven at 350 degrees.
Place the butter and brown sugar in the bottom of the pan. Transfer the pan to the hot oven for 1 to 2 minutes or until the butter melts. Watch closely so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven and stir to mix.
Arrange the bread slices in a single layer in the prepared dish. Allow the pan to cool.
In a bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, vanilla, and salt. Pour the mixture over the bread. Using clean hands press the bread into the egg mixture so all the slices are moistened.
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, if using. Sprinkle the mixture over the bread. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Set the oven at 375 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the dish in the oven for 30 minutes or until it’s puffy and golden.
Remove from the oven and serve at once. Pass the maple syrup around for drizzling.