Served warm and topped with vanilla sauce, this twist on bread pudding makes an indulgent breakfast treat, a lunch-time extra or a dinner dessert, all with a WOW factor!
For the Vanilla Sauce
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
6 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
For the Strata
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
5 medium baking apples, such as Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, and quartered
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Juice of ½ a lemon
¾ cup sugar
¼ tsp. kosher salt
2 cups milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Italian or French bread loaf or baguette (about 15 oz.) cut crosswise into ½" slices
1. To make the vanilla sauce: Whisk together sugar and yolks in a 4—qt. saucepan; add milk and vanilla bean with seeds, and stir until smooth. Place saucepan over medium heat; cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and pour through a fine strainer into a bowl; chill until thickened.
2. To make the strata: Heat oven to 375°. Heat butter in a 12" cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples, and cook, stirring, until just soft, about 12 minutes. Add ¼ cup brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and juice, and cook until sugar melts and apples are beginning to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
3. In a large bowl, whisk remaining brown sugar along with sugar, salt, and eggs until smooth. Add milk, cream, and vanilla, and whisk until smooth. Add bread slices to skillet with apples, nestling them in among the apples, and then pour egg mixture over top, making sure all bread and apples are covered. Let sit for 20 minutes, pressing down bread once or twice, until bread soaks up most of the egg mixture.
4. Bake until golden brown and slightly puffed, about 35 minutes. Let cool slightly and then scoop into serving bowls and drizzle with vanilla sauce.