Vanilla Bean French Toast

Prep this fragrant French toast the night before, and then bake it in the oven right before brunch—easy, peasy!

1 loaf cinnamon bread, cut into 1-inch slices
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups half-and-half
¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
½ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Fresh berries and confectioner’s sugar, for topping

1. Preheat an oven to 425°. Butter or grease the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Set aside, Arrange the bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast until the bread is lightly golden brown and dry, about 7 minutes, flipping the slices about halfway through the cooking time. Transfer the bread slices to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, brown sugar, lemon zest and a pinch of salt. With the tip of a paring knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean halves into the egg mixture and whisk to combine; reserve the vanilla bean halves. In batches, dip the bread slices into the egg mixture, turning the slices to coat them evenly and letting the bread sit in the bowl for about 2 minutes to absorb the liquid. Arrange the bread slices in the prepared baking dish, overlapping them slightly. Pour any remaining egg mixture in the bowl evenly over the bread in the dish. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

3. To bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Transfer the dish, still covered with the foil, to the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the dish, increase the oven temperature to 375° and continue baking until the French toast is puffed up and browned, about 15 minutes more. While the French toast is cooking, in a small saucepan over low heat, combine the maple syrup and the 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter has melted, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. To serve, pour the maple syrup mixture evenly over the French toast. Garnish with the reserved vanilla bean halves, if desired, and serve with berries and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

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