Challah is the bread of choice here because it really absorbs the custard, creating an eggy, sweet version of French toast similar to the pain perdu of New Orleans. Crunchy almonds, fresh raspberries and fragrant orange zest bring this classic breakfast dish to a whole new level.
1 cup half-and-half
2 Tablespoons sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
3/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 thick slices challah or other egg bread, preferably day-old
Canola oil or clarified butter for cooking
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup fresh raspberries
Pure maple syrup, for serving
Preheat an oven to 350°F.
In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, sugar, orange zest, almond extract and vanilla. Add the bread to the egg mixture and turn gently to coat evenly. Let stand until the bread has soaked up some of the egg mixture, about 1 minute.
Preheat a griddle over medium heat until hot; a few drops of water flicked onto the surface should skitter across it. Lightly oil the griddle. Spread the almonds on a plate. Remove the bread, 1 piece at a time, from the egg mixture, letting the excess liquid drip back into the bowl. Dip one side of the bread into the almonds, pressing gently to help the nuts adhere, and place on an ungreased baking sheet.
Place the bread slices, almond side down, on the griddle and cook until the nuts begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Flip the slices and cook until golden brown on the other side, about 2 minutes more. Transfer the slices, almond side down, to a lightly oiled baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the center of the bread is heated through but is still moist, about 10 minutes.
Serve the French toast hot, almond side up, topped with a handful of raspberries and drizzled with maple syrup.