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I typically prefer savory breakfasts: think fried eggs with a generous dusting of cayenne (I know) and a couple slices of toasted bread. I eat this most mornings, except for when French toast is an option. Not going to deny that making French toast can get a little tedious, between dipping the bread in a custard batter and then pan frying them one-by-one. I have spent too much time in the kitchen over the stove making sure I am getting that even golden brown on each side (when I should be chilling with a mimosa, ya know?). Sure I’ll do it while cooking for two. But when I have guests over, I’m all about a French toast casserole. This baked version is a huge time saver and requires minimal prep. Plus, it comes out looking beautiful and your house smells like a fancy bakery: all positives if you ask me!
The flavors in this recipe are inspired by “kheer,” a type of rice pudding made in India spiced with cardamom, saffron and rose. I use brioche in this recipe, but really any soft white bread works just as great (like challah!). A trick I learned in culinary school was to give the slices a quick toast under the broiler, this dries them out further, allowing them to soak up more of the custard and gives the most amazing golden brown color with crispy edges. The secret ingredients to this custard? Cardamom and saffron for warmth and color! Blooming the saffron by crushing the threads and then adding warm milk brings out its bright orange color to tint this comforting casserole. Left to rest overnight and then baked in the morning to perfection, it’s the true breakfast of champions, especially when finished with dollops of chilled rosewater whipped cream and crushed pistachios for crunch.
Make this delicious crowd-pleasing Baked French Toast with Cardamom and Saffron to level up your brunch game!
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Yield: Serves or Makes 6
Place oven rack about 4 inches below the broiler, then set oven to broil. Line two sheet pans with wire racks and place sliced brioche on top. Toast the bread, one tray at a time, for 30-40 seconds on each side.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind saffron threads into a fine powder, then add to a small bowl. Microwave or heat 1 tablespoon of milk until hot to the touch, then add to the saffron, gently swirling to infuse (the liquid should turn bright orange).
In a large bowl, whisk together saffron mixture with remaining milk, 1½ cups of the heavy cream, dark brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla extract, cardamom, salt and eggs.
Arrange the bread slices vertically in a 9-by-13-inch deep baking dish. Pour custard batter over the arranged bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 350°F. Bake until the custard has set and the casserole is golden, 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the rose whipped cream: Whisk together remaining 1 cup heavy cream with granulated sugar and rose water to soft peaks.
Dust baked french toast with confectioner’s sugar, dollops of rose whipped cream. Sprinkle pistachios and dried petals then serve.