A few weeks ago, I hosted a brunch for my book club. Well, I use the term “book club’ loosely, since we haven’t bothered with choosing a book since 2011. Now we’re more of a “wine and conversation” club. We meet irregularly, a handful of times each year. Since I couldn’t remember the last time I’d hosted, I figured it was my turn. Coincidentally, one of my college besting planned to be in town for a short visit, so the morning became my own personal Superbowl of great girlfriends and incredible conversation.
I’d originally bribed JiT too take the kiddos for a little Sunday morning adventure, but at the last minute one of our guests asked if she could bring her son along since husband had been called on a business trip. So JiT played babysitter in the basement, while the ladies (with cameos by Max) invaded the dining room.
This crew of ladies regularly has me crying with laughter, so I didn’t want to miss a second. As such, the menu needed to be completely make-ahead. I opted for a decadent brioche French toast, sweet and custardy with bursts of blueberry and rich cream cheese, then topped with a warm blueberry sauce. You make it the night before then throw it in the oven an hour before serving.
A French toast bake is pretty pedestrian in terms of brunch fare, but this one really shines thanks to the brioche and cream cheese. Its worth seeking out brioche — a rich, pastry-style bread made with eggs and butter. You can often find it in the deli section of larger supermarkets or at a good bakery. Also, definitely don’t skip the sauce. The French toast is rich and creamy on its own but the blueberry sauce adds the perfect bright sweetness. Frozen berries are absolutely fine for this.
A bowlful of fresh berries and a few savory components are all you need to round out the brunch bar. I made some miniature veggie omelets, oven baked in a heart-shaped silicone mold, and a pound of really good bacon, also prepared in the oven. The kitchen was cleaned up and guest-ready 15 minutes before their arrival. Once everyone arrived, we simply poured coffee, popped the champagne for mimosas and commenced laughter.
I’m planning to repeat this menu for Easter brunch — I figure if I throw everything in the oven before the Easter egg hunt begins and it’ll be ready by the time the kids finish counting eggs and their plundering baskets. Hopefully the snow will have melted by then. Our walk to school today wasn’t exactly Spring flowers…
Cream Cheese Studded Blueberry Brioche French Toast
Makes one 13×9″ pan (apx. 12 servings)
1 loaf brioche bread (about 12 slices), cut into cubes
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, cut into one-inch cubes
1 cup fresh blueberries
12 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup maple syrup
Spray a 13×9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange half of the bread cubes in the bottom of the pan. Distribute cream cheese cubes evenly over over the bread cubes and sprinkle blueberries over top. Top with the remaining bread cubes and set pan aside.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and maple syrup. Pour mixture evenly over bread cubes. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove bread cube mixture from refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover mixture with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until center is firm and top is golden brown.
Remove French Toast bake from oven and allow to cook 10 minutes before serving. Serve with blueberry sauce (below).
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tablespoon butter
Combine cornstarch, sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly with a whisk until boiling. Continue cooking and stirring constantly for 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat to simmer and add blueberries. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes until blueberries burst and the mixture resembles a thick syrup consistency. Stir in the butter and serve warm, alongside the French toast.