Three things mark the holiday season: family, friends and great food. So when I was searching for a recipe for a great holiday breakfast dish, I sought out none other than Amy Russo, owner of Toast, where the awning appropriately reads “a place for family, friends and great food.”
In May 2007, Amy opened Toast the cozy breakfast, brunch, and lunch spot that has been adopted by locals as a clear and reliable favorite. Toast is exactly what the name implies: warm, familiar, comforting, and satisfying. Beginning with the dark wood, soft lighting, and scattered antiques on the first floor, the warmth wafts through the rest of the two-story restaurant past the espresso bar on the mezzanine level, and up to the equally comfortable second level dining room.
Amy grew up in Rutherford, NJ – a tiny town in the south of Bergen County, and was the youngest of six children. Amy does not have a formal education in the food industry. Her father was a restaurateur, and as she proudly and amicably states that her “grandmother’s apron was [her] cooking school.”
During her college years at Farleigh Dickinson, Amy worked at Park & Orchard, where she met Gary Ryan, the current head chef at Toast.
Staples on Toast menu include Eggs Benedict, which are made with real hollandaise sauce, the rich, decadent and satisfying Bananas Foster French Toast, and a Lobster Roll that’s simply to die for.
Amy is a family person who understands the difficulty of feeding breakfast to a house full of holiday guests. The key to satisfying the morning crowd is getting the prep work done ahead of time. Amy was kind enough to share her coveted recipe for Blueberry and Pecan Baked French Toast, which she describes as a cross between bread pudding and French toast. Most of the prep and assembly for this delicious dish could be done before hand. Enjoy!
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Blueberry and Pecan Baked French Toast
2 loaves Challah bread left over night to allow to get a little stale:)- large cubes
- 7 large eggs
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 cup pecans toasted lightly (about 3 ounces)
- 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups fresh(if available) blueberries (about 12 ounces)
Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Cut challah in large cubes and arrange in two layers in baking dish. In a large bowl whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, vanilla, and 3/4 cup brown sugar and pour evenly over bread. Chill mixture, covered, overnight in refrigerator until all liquid is absorbed by bread.
In the morning while your having your first cuppa...
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a shallow baking pan spread pecans evenly and toast in middle of oven until fragrant, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and increase temperature to 400°F.
Sprinkle pecans and blueberries evenly over bread mixture. Cut 1/2 stick butter into pieces and in a small saucepan heat with remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, stirring, until butter is melted. Drizzle butter mixture over bread and bake mixture 30 minutes, or until any liquid from blueberries is bubbling.
Make syrup while French toast is baking:
In a small saucepan cook blueberries and maple syrup over moderate heat until berries have burst, about 3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Syrup may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Reheat syrup before serving.
Serve French toast with syrup.
- 1 cup blueberries (about 6 ounces)
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
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Montclair, NJ 07042