Well, I've innovated it. I had to combine two different recipes to get here, but now I can sleep secure knowing that, should I ever need to serve brunch to people, I know precisely how to put the French Tioast casserole together.
I combined the most fragrant of the custards (let's be honest, with really excellent vanilla, the Pioneer Woman's Baked French Toast has a nice, basic custard base) and the best topper (the caramel on the Skier's French Toast Casserole is...mind-shatteringly fabulous) and made the French Toast Casserole la prima.
Here it is:
Surly Knitter's Super Duper French Toast Casserole
You will need: 9 x 13 baking dish, oven, and a spoon to get it from the bowl into your mouth. You will definitely want to get it there efficiently.
For the caramel:
1/2 cup butter -- one stick, for Americans playing at home
2 Tblsp corn syrup, light or dark
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
For the custard:
8 whole eggs
2 cups whole milk (2% will suffice)
1/2 cups heavy cream (I used half and half, it works)
3/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp vanilla extract -- buy the best one you can afford; I accidentally bought a $6 bourbon vanilla that's organic and free-trade, and I'd willingly pay that again, even if I only made $6 an hour
One loaf of crusty bread, sourdough or white, dealer's choice. Cut or torn into bite size squares/cubes.
The night before, make the caramel. In a sauce pan on the stove, melt your butter on medium to medium-low heat. When the stick is melted, stir in the corn syrup and dark brown sugar. Stir occasionally and let simmer lightly until the sugar is completely melted into the butter and no crystals remain (it takes a bit, be patient).
Meanwhile, grease your pan. Use butter or spray stuff, it's up to you. When the caramel is ready, pour into the bottom of the pan. It's not going to like the spray stuff or butter that you used very much, so you may have to spread it out with your spoon. Let set aside.
Mix the custard ingredients (I prefer to whip the eggs and sugar together before adding the rest of the ingredients, but last night I put them in as I could get to them and it turned out really well). Spread the bread bits on top of the caramel in the baking dish, using them to spread the caramel a little more. Pour the custard on top of the bread, making sure to get all the top pieces wet (unless you like chewing on broken glass, which is sort of what baked stale bread feels like in the mouth).
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Next morning, rise, shine, get a cup of joe and preheat your oven to 350 F. Pop the casserole in for 40-45 minutes (checking at the 40 minute mark for done-ness). Bake longer for a drier texture, less time for a more squishy bread pudding experience.
Remove from oven. Nosh. You don't need (nor will you want) maple syrup. Sausage is a good pairing, although bacon is always welcome in my home.
I promise you, this one is the best possible French Toast Casserole. At least, by my reckoning. Here, have some pictures:
I wasn't home when it came out, and if you could smell it, too, you'd understand why half of it was gone before I even got here.
Close up of the lovely, lovely custard and goo.
In my bowl, on the way to in my belleh.
You can be sure I'm already on to my second serving. This stuff is excellent.