French toast dish is impressive, not costly

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As meals go, breakfast typically is the least expensive of the day. That also means it is easily transformed into something special without spending a fortune.

Eggs, bread and milk are relatively cheap and, with the right recipe, can become more than the usual omelets and toast.

Oven-baked French toast with mixed berry sauce costs just over $1 a serving to prepare and is impressive enough for company, yet simple enough to make for a Sunday brunch with family.

Cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla give the batter a holiday flavor, but the seasonings are easily adjusted to suit your taste. The addition of baking powder provides just enough extra leavening to make the French toast puff up soufflelike.

OVEN-BAKED FRENCH TOAST WITH BERRY SAUCE

Start to finish: 1 hour (25 minutes active)

Servings: 8

For the French toast:

16- to 20-ounce loaf sliced white bread, ends discarded

q cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

6 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups low-fat milk

For the berry sauce:

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons cornstarch

3 cups fresh or frozen mixed berries

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon salt

Set the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Arrange enough whole bread slices in a single layer to cover the bottom of the dish. Cut the remaining slices in half on the diagonal and arrange them in overlapping rows on top. You should have 3 rows of bread triangles. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and nutmeg. Whisk in eggs and vanilla until well blended. Gradually whisk in the milk.

Slowly and evenly pour the egg mixture over the bread slices and let soak for 5 minutes. Use a fork or spatula to gently press down on the bread to ensure it is evenly soaked.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the French toast is puffed. Sprinkle the top of the French toast with sugar, then set the oven to broil. Broil the French toast until the sugar is melted and the bread is lightly browned.

While the French toast bakes, in a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and cornstarch. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the berries, sugar, water and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and stir in lemon juice mixture. Simmer, stirring often, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes more. Let cool.

When the French toast is done baking, serve immediately topped with mixed berry sauce.

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