December 6 2016

Seasonal Musings by Elisa Ludwig

Getting a roast and six side dishes to the table on time is certainly a challenge, but at least there are precedents for what to cook. This time of year, the bigger question might be what to serve the overnight guests that turn up in your kitchen.

As with any holiday entertaining for a crowd, the key is to plan and cook ahead, reducing stress and allowing the host to spend more time catching up with loved ones. (Unless, of course. there’s tension afoot—in which case Christmas morning might be the perfect time to make biscuits and gravy from scratch.)

Luxuriant baked French toast is an ideal casserole for a crowd of sleepover guests. With their forgiving custardy texture, these dishes can be assembled and cooked, then reheated for company. With Steve’s version you can go all the way to step 5 one full day ahead, then bake it off the morning of. This recipe incorporates holiday-scented figs and ricotta cheese for an extra-festive flavor, but you can skip the first step and substitute any kind of jam to make it your own.

Baked, Stuffed and French Toasted Challah

Serves 6

2 cups dried figs, cut into small cubes
zest and juice of 1 orange
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch more for the jam
1/3 cup white wine, plus 1/3 cup water
12 eggs
3 cups half and half
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large challah bread, quartered, then cut into 12 ¾-inch slices
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups whole milk ricotta
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

  1. Make the fig jam: Combine figs, orange zest and juice, 2 tablespoons sugar, coriander, a pinch of salt and wine in a small pot. Over low-moderate heat, cook until figs soften and most liquid evaporates, about 20 minutes. Add water as needed until figs are soft.
  2. Make the batter: In a large bowl, add eggs and beat lightly. Then add half and half, vanilla, nutmeg, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 4 tablespoons sugar. Mix well.
  3. Transfer batter to a deep and wide ovenproof dish. Soak each slice of bread, turning until bread no longer soaks up any batter. Pour any excess batter over bread, distributing evenly.
  4. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a wide sauté pan over moderate heat. When foam subsides, reduce heat to low and add bread to pan. Cook just one side of each slice until browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. When brown, transfer bread, browned side down into a rimmed baking sheet. Continue cooking bread slices, working in batches and adding butter as needed.
  5. To assemble: Divide ricotta evenly on uncooked side of six slices of bread. Divide fig jam and spread over ricotta. Make sandwiches by placing a second slice of bread on top, with the browned side facing up.
  6. Preheat oven to 300°. Place French toast in oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and flip each sandwich. Continue baking another 20 minutes. Use a fine mesh strainer to sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on top before serving.

Read other Winter 2016 Newsletter articles

Fresh from the Oven
Seasonal Musings
Party in Focus
The Dish
The Equipped Kitchen
At Home
Local Shopping
The Franklin Institute
By the Glass