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The holidays are the perfect time to justify rich and sweet foods. It’s in moderation, but a big group of people around the table just doesn’t seem to enjoy the bowl of oatmeal I make every morning. Welcoming guests with a vanilla spiked french toast scented kitchen is about as cozy as you can get, add the fact that certain recipes can be made the day before and a breakfast gathering seems like the easiest entertaining you could ask for. While looking for a special dish to welcome the season I became inspired by Ina Garten’s incredible ability to entertain at a moment’s notice and her french toast bread pudding recipe. I imagine her kitchen is permanently scented with that inviting smell and for the holidays I set out to make my kitchen feel a bit like Ina’s. Thick slices of brioche, fresh blueberries, tart lemon zest, and an eggy vanilla custard sounded too delicious to pass up so I pulled out my biggest baking dish and began layering the buttery carb in a stylish fashion. Because hanging out over the stove early in the morning sounds like the worst way to welcome guests I opted to prepare the dish the night before to let it soak in the sweetened milk mixture. A low heat 90 minute bake in the morning meant I had time to snooze in bed a bit longer. I foresee this recipe becoming a holiday tradition, much like the champagne enjoyed at Christmas Eve dinner. A drizzle of maple syrup (a $13 bottle of the good stuff I may add!) and I could already imagine the holiday decor lining the mantle and mini white lights glowing in the background.

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Ina’s recipe calls for other ingredients so I used her custard recipe as a starting point and doctored it up a bit with my own spin.

Lemon and blueberry baked french toast: Serves 10-12
Adapted from Ina Garten

1 loaf brioche
8 eggs
5 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons agave syrup
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 carton blueberries
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Arrange slices of brioche in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Overlap slices so they are slightly stacked one behind the other.

In a very large bowl mix together eggs, milk, agave syrup, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt.

Pour mixture over bread making sure each slice gets soaked by the mixture. The tops of the slices wont be submerged but this is what gives you the slight crunch in the finished dish.

Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning preheat over to 350-degrees.

Sprinkle bread with blueberries, tucking a few between the slices and on top.

While heating, place the baker in a high sided roasting pan then fill with hot tap water until 1″ of the baking dish is submerged. This is a water bath that ensures the custard doesn’t burn at the bottom. Cover the entire roasting pan with foil making sure it doesn’t touch the bread. cut a few slashes in the foil for the steam.

Bake for 45 minutes covered, then remove the foil and bake for another 45 minutes until custard sets and puffs. This will give you a firmer custard. Let cool before serving.

Slice into squares to serve and drizzle with maple syrup.