One of the rules to making any festive gathering less stressful is preparing a dish in advance. Brunch is trickier; many egg dishes and morning sweets tend to be a la minute operations. Thankfully chef Sebastien Archambault was willing to share his popular twist on French toast from Blue Duck Tavern’s menu, no last-minute frying involved.
You’ll need to start two days in advance so that the bread and croissants can sit overnight in crème anglaise (a light vanilla custard), and then chill overnight after baking to fully set. The fruit compote can be made up to a week before. Once your guests arrive, all the legwork is done: just rewarm the French toast and sweet pear-apple mixture, and pour yourself the first mimosa.
Pear and Apple French Toast
Ingredients for the French toast
14 egg yolks
¼ lb sugar
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (use seeds only)
½ lb country bread
3 oz plain croissants
Ingredients for the pear and apple garnish
½ lb pears, diced
½ lb apples, diced
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Salt, to taste
Assemble the French toast
Whisk the first six ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside.
Cut the country bread into 1-inch slices. Leave the croissants whole. Place both the bread and croissants into a large plastic container with a lid. Pour cream mixture over the baked items and stir to coat. Make sure all bread is submerged. Cover and let soak in the refrigerator overnight.
Bake the toast
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Cook in a greased 9-by-13-inch cake pan for two hours. Make sure the center of the bread pudding is set before removing from the oven. There should be no liquid flow when pressed lightly near the center.
Place the cake pan on the counter. Top with a sheet pan or cookie tray and press the toast for one hour. Remove the tray, and let the toast it chill in the fridge overnight.
Make the pear and apple garnish
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the sugar to dark caramel over a medium flame. When the sugar is completely melted, add all remaining ingredients. Do not stir.
When the sugar loosens up, stir and cook until the apples start to look glassy, about eight minutes (the sugar will seize up because you are adding cold ingredients, but it will loosen and melt).
Remove from heat and let the mixture cool down to room temperature. Place the mixture (including the juices) in a quart container and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. This can be made up to a week in advance.
Preheat the oven to 350 degree F.
Cut the toast in the middle lengthwise, and then slice into 1-inch pieces. Warm in the oven until heated through.
Meanwhile, re-warm the compote in a sauce pan over medium heat (if the fruit has absorbed all the liquid, add a little apple sauce or apple juice). Top the French toast with the fruit garnish, plus whipped cream and maple syrup if desired.