Slow-Cooking the America's Test Kitchen Way: ROYAL French Toast Casserole

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Hey, Claire,

When we started our slow cooker project, I already had plans to get together with the Queens of Fugging and our friend, Lauren, for royal wedding-watching, so you can imagine how much of a genius I felt like when I decided to combine a cooking project with our get-together. Multi-tasking! Plus I would get to feed my friends, which I love to do. However, the girls were going to be quite busy live-blogging the nuptials, so our numbers went from four to two...and yet I still made a breakfast that serves 8-10. Because that's how I roll.

I made the French Toast Casserole (p. 282) because I love French toast and especially love the idea of not having to stand around with a dipping-and-cooking workstation in the morning to make it. I wanted this dish to cook while Lauren and I watched the wedding overnight, so I had to start putting it together the Thursday before the big day. The first thing I did was buy Italian bread before work, and not just any Italian bread, but bread from one of the best sources in the country for all things good and tasty: Bay Cities. I bet you're thinking, "You think your Italian deli is all that? I live in CHICAGO, lady. They grow on TREES here." Just trust me when I say that Bay Cities is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. It really is. I mean, just look at my bread:

Right? I know. And before you ask, the recipe does not ask for this much bread. I was just hungry.

The food prep continued once I got home. My plan was to have all of my ingredients ready so I could take everything (slow cooker and all) to Lauren's. It was a slightly crazy plan that meant I would get zero sleep before the wedding started at 2 a.m. Friday morning, but I made it work. The first thing I did was cube 1 1/2 loaves (enough to equal 16 ounces) of my Bay Cities bounty.

I then went to work on chopping candied pecans for the topping. I nearly required smelling salts when I saw how much candied pecans are going for nowadays ($12.99/lb.!), but it was absolutely worth it in the end.

Preparing these two ingredients was the most difficult part of the recipe. Everything else came together without a hitch. To the mise en place!

So satisfying.

I had to toast the cubed bread to dry it out a bit, so while that did its thing in the oven I got to work on making the slow cooker's foil collar and sling. I had never made such a thing before, but ATK states that it helps prevent burning as well as provide an easy way to lift the finished product out intact, so I went with it. I thought at first that my collar didn't lay as flat against the side of the cooker like in the cookbook, but it turned out to be just fine.

You can't tell from that angle but the bottom edges of the collar curled up the sides of the slow cooker rather than lay flat against its bottom. Wonky.

The sling got, well, slung. I should have torn longer pieces of foil.

Now here -- HERE -- is where I was a genius. I had been thinking about how I was going to transport the slow cooker from point A to point B so that it would be well-protected. It wasn't hot, but I had to find something large enough yet not too unwieldy for me to carry. After a few minutes, I figured it out. CHECK IT:

I AM SO SMART. The slow cooker fit perfectly inside this Staples paper box with its cut-out handles that made it oh-so-easy for me to lift. And people call me crazy for holding onto empty boxes.

While the bread finished toasting, I took my lovely mise en place apart and got it ready for transport. If I am cooking in another person's kitchen, I always err on the side of caution and bring every single ingredient I need with me. It's better to be safe than sorry, right? As soon as the bread was done, I packed up my ship and headed to Lauren's. Bring on the royals!

The royal wedding swag that came straight from London. Lauren and I, both professed Anglophiles, do not mess around.

It was smooth sailing once I was settled in at Lauren's. All I had to do was add the bread to the slow cooker; mix the eggs, milk, heavy cream, and spices together; pour the mixture over the bread, and then lightly smoosh everything down. That may not be the ATK-approved term, but it's what I did.

As the bread and milk mixture settled in the slow cooker, I tossed the candied pecans in even more butter and brown sugar (swoon) and scattered them atop the casserole. Right when I finished this various portions of the royal wedding entourage had started making their way to Westminster Abbey, so I hurried to get the dish going. There was a wedding to watch! And watch we did -- ALL NIGHT.

Four hours, four mimosas (during the kiss on the balcony), and three cups of coffee later, Lauren and I woke up from our one-hour disco naps to the sweet, warm smell of French toast:

You want to see that promising goodness close up, don't you? Of course you do,

French toast casserole fit for a royal wedding, I say. It was just about the best thing to eat after pulling an all-nighter: the high-quality bread was pliant and pillowy-soft, not to mention redolent with warm milky, creamy, and spicy flavors, and perfectly balanced with the sugary crunch of the candied pecans. I would definitely make this again, perhaps for a potluck brunch. The best thing about this? I loved that we didn't have to think about cooking anything in our sleep-deprived state. It was already THERE.

I am certain the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would give this breakfast two royal thumbs up. Congratulations, you two crazy kids!

So what's going on in your kitchen, Miss Claire?