December 13, 2018
The only thing more exciting than waking up on Christmas morning is waking up to the smell of something sweet and spiced on Christmas morning. If the comfort of being home with family and the anticipation of the “magic” that happens every night before Christmas was an aroma, it would be this. I’m not much of a baker, and usually try to keep sweets at a minimum, but if there is ever a time to be creative and indulge a little bit, it’s now. But, for what it’s worth, I kept things dairy-free and sweetened naturally with maple syrup 🙂
I always love shopping the market for my next creation, but there was something extra special about it this past weekend. The weather was cold and rainy, and really an awful day to be outside, but no one seemed to notice as people huddled under the tents of vendors looking for the perfect gifts and food for their holiday parties. As I talked with the lady behind MaDEAR’s jellies, she told me all about her flavors and let me sample to my heart’s content to find just the right flavor for my french toast bake. Soon we were laughing about something or the other, and I just thought to myself, “this is what the Christmas season is about.”
People don’t come to the market out of convenience or just because they need to buy something… the parking is far too limited and, hello, Amazon has everything you could ever want. People come to the market because it’s an experience, a gathering, and a reminder to slow down and appreciate not just gifts but the act of giving. It’s a place where strangers share a connection over a cup of coffee, a freshly cut tree, or a handmade piece of art.
So now that we’re both in the Christmas spirit, let’s talk about flavors. The secret to this dish is infusing the custard with mulling spices, cranberries and orange. The brioche bread makes for a sweet, fluffy base, and the dried cranberries and candied nuts add another dimension of texture. The cinnamon apple preserves reinforces the marriage of fruit and warm spices and brings the whole dish together. And the BEST part is, you can assemble this in about 30 minutes the night before, let it sit overnight to soak up all the custard, and pop it in the oven first thing in the morning before your first cup of coffee and let it bake while your little ones open presents. What could be better?!
In a medium saucepan, combine the ingredients for the mulled spice milk and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Watch carefully that it does not boil over. As soon as it begins to bubble, reduce heat to low and cover. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, and remove from heat. Keep covered and allow to cool to room temperature.
Whisk together eggs with spices and vanilla extract. Once the milk mixture cools, strain out all the flavorings and pour into the egg mixture.
Cut brioche into 1 inch cubes and spread into a baking dish. Sprinkle over dried cranberries and dollop in preserves of choice. Pour over the custard, cover the dish and let sit overnight or for at least a few hours.
When you are ready to bake it, preheat the oven to 350 and top with pats of dairy free butter. Bake for 45 minutes until custard is set and the top is golden brown. Top with chopped nuts and a drizzle of warm maple syrup and try not to eat the whole pan in one sitting….