This time of year, we're all looking for the easy way out, aren't we?

Fast, easy, time-saving... holiday buzzwords all.

Which is too bad. The December holidays – Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa – are all about friends and family, food and fun. Why do we find ourselves rushing through them?

Because we've piled too much on our plates, that's why. And I don't mean too many cookie-swap cookies.

The last thing you want to stress over is making sure everyone's fed on Christmas morning, right? Which is why you put this Baked Stuffed Cinnamon French Toast together a day or so ahead, then stow it in the fridge. When Christmas morning rolls around, simply stick it in the oven, and hurry back to the tree.

Looking for a way to enjoy those special Christmas moments with your (well-fed) family?

You've found it.

Breakfast bread puddings (a.k.a. stratas) are trending hot these days. Thankfully, this comforting combo of bread, eggs, milk, and the additions of your choice – anything from ham and asparagus to bacon and maple syrup – is coming back into vogue, just in time for what's often the most rushed, mismanaged breakfast of the year: Christmas morning.

Mom and Dad gulp lukewarm brew from the same coffee cups they used scant hours ago, rustling all the presents together. The kids grab handfuls of Capn' Crunch right from the box. No one has the time (or desire) to sit at the table and eat something warm and tasty and filling. It's simply not in the Christmas cards.

But what if the wonderful aroma of cinnamon and bacon gradually started to build, just as the first crush of Christmas morning excitement is winding down? Would that give you the chance to play referee for a moment, and call a timeout for breakfast?

You bet. And when it happens, you'd best be ready with Baked Stuffed Cinnamon French Toast.

Start with a loaf of white or whole wheat bread, one whose texture is sturdy enough not to disintegrate in an overnight bath of milk and eggs.

Click anywhere on this picture to enlarge it to full size - this will work for any of the photos you see in this blog post.

I guarantee you'll LOVE this easy recipe for English Muffin Toasting Bread. It makes the BEST toast – including cinnamon toast.

Also, it yields the perfect-size slices for our baked French toast.

Speaking of cinnamon – if you haven't tried our Cinnamon-Sugar Plus, you're missing a good thing. It's the perfect marriage of aromatic Vietnamese cinnamon and superfine sugar.

Look at this cinnamon toast - it just doesn't get any better!

Start by slicing your bread 1/2"-thick, and making 16 pieces of cinnamon toast. Toast bread, then spread it with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.

If you have a toaster oven, spread the bread with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar first, then toast; the topping will adhere better.

Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

Next, we'll make a sticky-bun type glaze, for the bottom of the pan. Combine the following in a saucepan:

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey

Heat until the butter melts, stirring frequently. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook until the sugar melts.

Pour the glaze into the prepared pan, spreading it to the corners.

Lay half the toast slices into the pan atop the glaze, cinnamon side up.

Top the toast with cooked breakfast meat, if desired. I've used bacon here, which turned out not to be the very best choice. It tasted good, but by the time the strata had baked, the bacon had lost its crispness. I think next time I'd choose crumbled cooked breakfast sausage, or slices of ham. Or simply serve the bacon on the side.

Lay the remaining slices of toast over the meat, cinnamon side up.

Next, we'll put together a custard "bath" for the bread.

Whisk together the following:

8 large eggs
4 3/4 cups milk or half & half
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour the custard into the pan. It should just about cover the bread, if you push the bread down into the custard. If for some reason you need more liquid, beat together 3/4 cup milk or half & half and 1 large egg, and add to the pan.

Cover the pan, and refrigerate overnight, or for up to 36 hours.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the strata from the fridge, and uncover it.

You'll notice that the bread will have soaked up a lot of the liquid (top photo, above); that's fine.

Bake the strata for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Remove it from the oven, and allow it to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Cut along the edges of the stacked bread slices, transferring each double-thick piece to a plate. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon-sugar, if desired; or drizzle with maple syrup or honey.

Or do both!

Happy holiday breakfasting, one and all!

PJ Hamel
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, three dogs, and really good food!

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