It was the most wonderful time of the year, so they say. Twinkling lights, perky tunes, an abundance of invitations to schmooze with semi-strangers juggling alcoholic beverages and green-and-red themed hors d’oeuvre plates. December is also the season of butter and deep-fat fried foods. And I wasn’t sure I was ready for it.
In other words, on December 1st my digestive system was ready for Lent, not Advent.
After barely four days to recover, it was time to haul out the festive spirit and deck the halls for Hanukkah, the Holiday of Lights. (The Holiday of Deep Frying would be more apropos, unless by “lights” you mean the inevitable ensuing stovetop flames). Allow me to recommend this for a nontraditional take on the homey comfort that is holiday food: Cheddar-stuffed Challah French Toast served with caramelized Apples and Red Onions.
Let me skip to the punchline: it’s to die for.
The original recipe was published this time last year in the New York Times. As the original cook describes, this dish started as a gussied up grilled cheese for when your family gets sick of latkes, then morphed into something truly festive. It’s essentially a one-pot dish of creamy, cheese-y, custard-y goodness, but savory. It reminds me a lot of the Germanic flavors that my grandmother brought over with her from Prussia and passed on to her progeny, flavors that say “home” and “Christmas” and “Mommy” to me. More than dinner, this dish becomes a way to include my family heritage in celebrating a holiday from Do’s roots.
I made this dish for both the first and second nights of Hannukah (you can tell it was a success!), and this morning we finally settled on a permutation that’s good enough for the archives. We replaced her gruyere with a sharp cheddar (personal preference), added mozzarella for cheese-y gooeyness and goat cheese for unctuous luxurious flavor, caramelized the red onions in the pan along with the apples, and nixed the “stuffing” concept for the “sandwich” concept (way easier to handle, and the flavors are better integrated). With a little bit of mustard, I promise this version is way better.