From scratch: Members of the VCU community share their favorite holiday recipes

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For many, Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season. And while the holidays are all about spending time with family and friends, more often than not, food plays a major role in bringing everyone together. We’ve collected favorite recipes from Virginia Commonwealth University students, faculty, staff and alumni to share and to savor this holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, from the VCU family to yours.

Turkey and turkey brine
From Hamilton Goss, executive chef, VCU Dining Services

Hamilton Goss
Hamilton Goss

Being trained in French cuisine, one thing that I like to bring to the American Thanksgiving table is a nod to my great-grandmother’s roasted turkey with a few added details from French cuisine. The turkey recipe attached brings me immediately back to walking into my great-grandmother’s house in southern Georgia. A true southern woman, Eula-Belle Higginbotham Cochran, taught me much about cooking, and one of those things was attention to detail and giving all the “love” you have into what you cook. This turkey is first brined to preserve moisture and then lovingly stuffed with a “bouquet garni” along with aromatic vegetables. By roasting the turkey atop these flavorful vegetables, the result is a bird that is teeming with flavor and aromas, and is incredibly juicy! Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Turkey brine
Ingredients (yields 1 gallon):
1 ¼ cups kosher salt
2 ¼ cups brown sugar
10 juniper berries
10 black peppercorns
10 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2 quarts water
2 quarts ice water

Add ingredients to water and bring to boil until salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour mixture directly into ice water to immediately chill and correct potency. Brine turkey for six hours. Remove turkey from brine and rest uncovered in refrigerator overnight until pellicle forms.

Roasted turkey
1 brined turkey (12-16 lbs.)
10 carrots peeled and cut lengthwise
5 onions cut in 2-inch dice
10 whole-stalk celery
4 bay leaves
15 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
3 oranges cut into quarters
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp kosher salt
3 tbsp black ground pepper
2 tbsp sweet paprika
2 tbsp brown sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a roasting pan appropriate for turkey size, place half of carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and oranges into bottom of pan for an even surface to place the turkey onto. Make sure pieces are large enough to keep turkey from direct pan contact.

Place turkey on top of vegetable mixture.

Add remaining vegetables to the interior of the turkey and secure (truss) the legs together (this will ensure that moisture and flavor is surrounding the turkey, inside and out!).

Rub the oil onto the turkey, ensuring even coverage.

Mix seasonings together and rub evenly onto turkey.

Place prepared roasting pan with turkey breasts facing upward with legs pointing to the rear wall of the oven (this will ensure that the area of the oven with the highest heat has the most contact with the dark meat, which requires a higher internal temperature).

Cook turkey for 30 minutes (this helps to keep the oven at an adequate temperature as the very cold turkey is introduced into the oven and reduces the recovery time).

Reduce heat to 300 degrees F and cook for an additional 3 ½ hours or until an internal temperature of 165 degrees F in the breast and 180 degrees F in the leg quarter.

Remove from heat and baste with melted butter.

Allow to rest at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes before carving.

Utilize vegetables and drippings from pan to finish turkey/chicken stock to make homemade gravy.

Thanksgiving Day turkey gravy
From Chris Saladino, faculty, Political Science Program

Chris Saladino
Chris Saladino

The only way to really enjoy roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and my grandmother’s traditional bread stuffing is to tie it all together with the gravy. To steal a line from a movie, my gravy is its own food group! To make this gravy correctly, you will have to start at least 24 hours before the meal. You can start up to four days ahead.

1.5 lbs turkey necks (about 4 decent-sized pieces)
2 lbs turkey wings or thighs or mixture of both (about 4 total pieces)
Giblets from the turkey (gizzard and heart, optional)
2 large carrots (chopped very coarsely)
3 stalks celery (chopped very coarsely)
2 small or 1 very large yellow or sweet onion (half sliced thinly and half coarsely chopped)
5 sprigs fresh Italian parsley (curly will work fine)
½ stick plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Pan drippings from the roasted turkey
3 quarts + 3 cups water
Fine mesh strainer
Wire whisk


Take half of the turkey parts and place them in a 13 x 9 inch roasting pan. Add the coarsely chopped onion to the pan and spread everything out so there is not much overlapping. Salt and pepper the turkey and the chopped onion and place in a 375 degree F oven for about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large dutch oven or sauce pan, melt 1 tbsp of butter and add the sliced onions. On medium heat, cook the onions, stirring until they start to brown, about 12 minutes. Add the carrots and half the celery and continue to cook for about 5 minutes as the celery also begins to brown. Add the rest of the turkey (2 necks, 2 wings or thighs) and raise the heat to high…sear the turkey in the vegetables for about 5-6 minutes, browning the skin on the turkey but being careful not to burn the vegetables. The carrots should NOT brown.

Add the water to this pan, stirring the bottom to prevent sticking and to deglaze the pan drippings into this stock. Lower the heat and bring to a simmer. Add the rest of the carrots, celery and the parsley (and now the giblets, if desired) to the pot and continue to simmer.

After 40 minutes of roasting, drain the pan juices from the roasted turkey necks into the sauce pan. Return to the oven for an additional 20 minutes until everything is brown. Remove from the oven, add 1 cup of water to deglaze and add the entire contents to the sauce pan.

Everything is now in the pool. Maintain a slow simmer and reduce to about half. Add salt and pepper to taste. It should be a pleasantly strong turkey broth with great color. If you kept a simmer and avoided a boil, the flavor will be strong but not bitter; this is your goal.

Cool slightly, remove all the turkey and vegetables, and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a plastic container. Refrigerate immediately for at least 5 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and skim off the hardened turkey fat solids. The remaining cooled stock should be gelatinous. For a richer stock, put back on the stove and simmer for another hour.


Once your turkey has been roasted, remove it from the pan after letting it rest of for at least 15 minutes. Deglaze the pan with 2 cups of water and skim off the fat. Set aside unstrained (nice little bits make the gravy delicious!!) but keep warm.

In a large sauce pan, melt the stick of butter until foaming but DO NOT BROWN. Over medium low heat, add the flour, bit by bit, until you have a light roux about the color of very milky coffee. Do not burn the roux. Start over if you do.

Keeping the heat on medium low, add in the pan drippings from the turkey and using a wire whisk, stir constantly until the mixture is uniform in texture and starts to bubble (this might take 10 minutes). It should be quite thick … like a smooth oatmeal or polenta.

Add in the reserved turkey stock and whisk together to avoid lumps. Bring to a boil … and then back to a simmer for at least 10 minutes to fully incorporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you desire very smooth gravy you can strain before serving. Serve piping hot.
It goes SO VERY WELL the next day on hot open-faced turkey sandwiches. OR, fry a piece of leftover bread stuffing in a little butter and then add gravy.

CAUTION: this is not low-calorie. It is DECADENT. And it is delicious … treat yourself to some real gravy … NEVER USE A JAR!!

Vegetarian stuffing
From VCU President Michael Rao and his wife, Monica

VCU President Michael Rao and his wife, Monica
VCU President Michael Rao and his wife, Monica

This dish came together in our quest to find foods that are fresh and whole. They are wonderful complements to turkey and ham or, if you are a vegetarian, a stuffed eggplant or a stuffed butternut squash.

12 cups 1/2 inch cubes bread (we use wheat crusty bread)
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 tsp fresh sage
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
11/2 cups vegetable broth (low sodium)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toast bread cubes for 5-8 minutes in the oven.
In a large skillet add oil and cook onions and celery for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Transfer to a bowl and add the bread cubes, herbs, salt, pepper and broth. Toss well and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a baking dish and place in the oven at 325 degrees F for 20 minutes until a crust forms.

Rock Star Stuffing
From John Venuti, chief, VCU Police

2 lbs Italian sausage (removed from casings)
1 lb whole white mushrooms-washed and quartered. (Here is a little trick: Fill a bowl with cold water, add a handful of white flour, submerge, wash and rinse mushrooms; I bet you will never have cleaner mushrooms.)
3 tbsp dry-rubbed sage
¼ tsp thyme
2 large onions
10 stalks of celery
4 bags herb-seasoned stuffing (dry)
1-2 quarts chicken stock
1 lb salted butter
Black pepper (more than likely no salt will be needed)
2 deep aluminum square baking pans


Chief John Venuti
Chief John Venuti

Before we get started I need to share the Venuti golden rule of stuffing on Thanksgiving: Never put this “award-winning” stuffing in a raw bird. NEVER. Stuffing a raw bird increases the cooking time of the bird and also leaves the bird at potentially hazardous food temperatures for a much longer period of time. The ideal temperatures for food bacteria to manifest are 40-140 degrees. If you want to be like Martha Stewart on Thanksgiving, cook the bird separately from the stuffing and then spoon the cooked stuffing into the cooked bird. You and all of your family and friends will live longer.

Cut onions and pulse them in a food processor until onion pieces are small. If you don’t have a food processor, or some type of electric chopping device, cut by hand. Cut celery and pulse in food processor until celery pieces are small.

For today only don’t listen to advice from the VCU Pauley Heart Center; sausage fat is good for you on Thanksgiving Day only. Cook sausage in a pot that will be large enough for all of the above ingredients. Add sage and thyme and a dash of black pepper. Break the sausage up as it cooks and you can leave the pieces large or small — your preference. Another option is after the sausage is cooked pulse it in the food processor. Either way, do not drain or discard the fat from the sausage.

Add all the butter with the exception of about 8 pats that will go onto the finished stuffing right before you bake it. This may sound like a lot of butter and actually it is. Work with me and just sneak it into the pot so no one sees you adding this much butter.

Add onions, celery and mushrooms and continue letting those cook with the sausage, approximately 15 minutes. Let cool for about 20-30 minutes.

A very large bowl works great for this step to ensure that everything is blended. Add bread stuffing cubes to the mixture of sausage and vegetables. Mix thoroughly and let it sit for about 10 minutes. If you want to be fancy, you can dice French bread or any other kind of bread. (Here’s a hint: Do you know why there are never any bags of stuffing bread cubes in the store before Thanksgiving? It’s easy and you really can’t tell the difference. If you make Thanksgiving dinner for about 35-40 people, you need to start grabbing bags of stuffing when you buy your Halloween candy.)

When you make awesome food you need active and aggressive strategies to discourage people from eating all of it early.

The bread cubes should be soft and tender, not hard. Add some of the chicken broth, mix well and recheck in about 5-10 minutes. You do not want the stuffing to be loose or soupy but the bread cubes must be soft and tender. Waiting and being patient is critical in this step. You want the stuffing moist but not runny or soupy.

Season to taste with pepper and maybe some salt; generally at this stage I usually do not need to add any salt.

At this stage I always take a couple of tablespoons of the stuffing mix and bake them in a small buttered muffin pan. I do this to ensure that the stuffing will be perfect. I call this a taste test. It also gets devoured for breakfast by my family.

Put stuffing into the baking pans and put the remaining pats of butter on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees F for about 60 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for approximately 30 more minutes.

After you cover the stuffing with foil, get a Sharpie marker. As everyone arrives at my house they are always peeping around the kitchen to see what’s going to hit the table later. With the Sharpie write on the foil, “Stuffing Thanksgiving 2012.” When you make awesome food you need active and aggressive strategies to discourage people from eating all of it early. This step is purely tactical. It will appear to be left over from a couple of years ago.

Dress like a rock star for Thanksgiving — because after making this stuffing you will be treated like one at dinner. Hide any stuffing that’s left over because your aunt who lives alone will guilt you into letting her take the leftovers. Pull a box of Stove Top stuffing out of the closet and give that to her with a kiss on the cheek. Seriously, keep what’s left. You will be looking for it the next day and it just keeps getting better.

Happy Holidays, VCU! Go Rams!

Almost Gramma Cordy’s dinner rolls
From Susan Roschke, alumna (Master of Urban and Regional Planning, Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs)

Susan Roschke
Susan Roschke

My grandmother made the most delicious dinner rolls. Soft and buttery, cloverleaf-shaped, melt-in-your-mouth incredible. I suspect there was lard involved. I have a lot of her recipes, but not this one. Not to mention Thanksgiving Day is a bit busy for homemade bread. But, I devised a bread machine version that honors her recipe without having to get up at 4 a.m. I miss my grandmother, especially when I’m baking, but this helps me remember her and keep her close at the holidays.

1 cup water
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1 egg
3 1/4 cup bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp bread machine yeast


Place all ingredients in the bread machine in the order listed. Select sweet dough cycle (or just dough cycle).

Grease muffin tins generously with butter to make 18 rolls.

When the dough cycle is complete, remove the dough to a plate or cutting board dusted with just a bit of flour so it doesn’t stick. Divide dough into 18 pieces to make plain round rolls or further divide into 54 pieces to make cloverleaf rolls. Place dough pieces into prepared muffin tin cups. Cover with clean, dry dish towels and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise 30-40 minutes until doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Uncover and brush roll tops with melted butter. Bake 12 minutes, until golden brown. (Ideally, the rolls can bake while the turkey is resting, but my timing is rarely that good.)

Serve with more butter. (Also good torn apart, slathered with real mayonnaise, with a slice of turkey and maybe a dab of cranberry sauce on each piece the next day.)

I miss my grandmother, especially when I’m baking, but this helps me remember her and keep her close at the holidays. 

Squash casserole
From Sherry Lockhart, Cardiac Surgery ICU nurse manager, VCU Pauley Heart Center

Squash casserole
Squash casserole

This dish will spice up your Thanksgiving dinner table. It was my grandmother’s recipe and always a family favorite!

2 lbs of squash (fresh squash cooked to very soft consistency or 3 cans drained do well)
1 stick butter, melted
1 medium finely grated onion
½ cup finely grated carrots
1 can cream of chicken soup
½ can water
½ pint sour cream (be generous)
1 package Pepperidge Farm Stuffing Mix (flavor of choice)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix in two-thirds of the Pepperidge Farm Stuffing Mix and stir ingredients.

Place in baking dish and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and cover with remaining Pepperidge Farm Stuffing Mix, and cook an additional 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Black and gold corn pudding
From Elinor Frisa, VCU home page manager, University Public Affairs

I can’t remember a holiday where my family didn’t serve this corn pudding recipe; my dad always made it when I was growing up, and he got the recipe from his mother. My husband is from Massachusetts and we usually celebrate Thanksgiving there, so it’s the perfect thing for me to contribute — a very Southern side to mix in with their New England dishes. When I first started making it as an adult, I went through a phase where I would mess something up every time I made it, even though it’s a very simple recipe. I’d leave out the sugar, and then the next time I’d leave out the flour. One time I made it in a tinfoil pan and took it out of the oven with one hand, which resulted in the pan collapsing and corn pudding spilling all over the oven. I’m on a winning streak these days, though, and haven’t managed to mess it up in several years.

Black and gold corn pudding
Black and gold corn pudding

1 can corn (14 ounces) or about four ears fresh corn
1 can cream-style corn (14 ounces)
6 tbsp flour
6 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar
1 ¾ milk (warmed slightly)
3 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix the two cans of corn together, then add flour and stir thoroughly. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.

Pour mixture into 2-quart or larger baking dish. Bake until the corn pudding is completely set, about 1 hour and 20 minutes (or longer). If the top is getting beyond golden brown and the center is not set, cover with foil and reduce temperature to 300 and continue to cook, monitoring frequently. When serving, grind some fresh black pepper or sprinkle black sea salt onto the pudding to give it a particularly VCU look.

Bourbon chocolate pecan pie
From Brigette Pfister, director of sponsored programs, College of Humanities and Sciences

Bourbon chocolate pecan pie
Bourbon chocolate pecan pie

I wanted to create a tradition, something that would symbolize all that I had to be thankful for.

My family’s religion is very strict and does not allow any type of holiday celebration, so I did not grow up celebrating Thanksgiving. Having no frame of reference other than movies, I was (justifiably) a little nervous about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. I had lots of cooking experience, but this was different. Finding recipes for turkey and all the fixins was easy enough, but I wanted to create a tradition, something that would symbolize all that I had to be thankful for.

I have a wonderful husband who has really enjoyed sharing his family’s traditions with me. His favorite dessert is pecan pie, so I decided to start there. I tried out lots of different pecan pie recipes, eventually settling on my own blend of all of them. Chocolate for the holiday traditions and experiences that are still a mystery to me; bourbon to symbolize the struggle of leaving a lifetime of indoctrination, and also the incredible life I found on the other side (because let’s face it, bourbon can be fun); nuts — well that one is pretty obvious, if you know me!

The pie was an instant hit. The first year I made it, my husband and my nephews ate two whole pies on Thanksgiving Day, and begged me to make another batch, and a tradition was born. Every year, no matter where we are (even the year my oldest son was two weeks old at Thanksgiving!) we make this pie. It has also been known to replace birthday cake for a certain person whose favorite dessert is now my pecan pie.

1 or 2 9-inch pie shell (or make your own! I recommend Julia Child’s pastry recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup corn syrup
½ cup butter
4 eggs
1/3 cup bourbon (I recommend Bulliet but I’ve been known to use Gentleman Jack)
2 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt (I use truffle salt, but table salt will work just fine)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (give or take; I use more or less depending on how chocolatey I want the pie to be)
1 cup pecans (give or take here, too)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter and chocolate chips in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the butter is melted and the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs. Then add the bourbon, vanilla and salt. Leave the mixer going and slowly pour in the warm chocolate mixture. Once that’s well mixed, add the pecans.

Pour the mixture into the pie shell(s). Be careful not to overfill! This pie will rise a little, and if you overfill, you will have a real mess on your hands. I can usually get two pies out of this recipe.

Bake at 325 for 50-55 minutes. Once baked, allow to cool on the stovetop before serving. You can serve it warm or cold.

Vegan cranberry-pear pie
From Katherine Allen, exercise science major, Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, College of Humanities and Sciences

Katherine Allen
Katherine Allen

I come from a large family where there’s always a party in the kitchen. We go all out when it comes to cooking for family meals. Through the years, I’ve added some healthier dishes into the traditional meals. This year, I am the one planning Thanksgiving, so there will be a lot of healthy and delicious options!

5 cups pears, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 4-5 medium pears)
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp Nature's Balance spread, melted
2 tbsp apple cider
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 prepared vegan deep-dish pie crust, unbaked
For the crumb topping:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup additional buttery spread, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the cranberries in a saucepan with the apple cider, buttery spread, sugar and maple syrup. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, just until cranberries start to “pop.”

Remove the cranberries from the heat and allow to cool.

Gently toss the pears with the cranberries and sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg until evenly coated, then place into prepared pie crust.

Prepare a topping by crumbling together the remaining sugar, flour and vegan buttery spread, mixing until crumbly. You may need to add a little more or less flour. Sprinkle over the top of the pie.

Bake for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 325, and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes, until crumb topping is lightly browned and the pears are soft. Pie will be very hot, so allow to cool before serving.

Pair it with a scoop of vanilla nice cream (frozen bananas and vanilla extract food processed together) and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

I come from a large family where there’s always a party in the kitchen.


Apple pie
From Heather Zulauf, senior account manager, University Marketing

Heather Zulauf
Heather Zulauf

When I was little my mom read me the book “How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World.” It quickly become one of my favorite books and at the back of the book was a recipe on how to make an apple pie. It’s a simple recipe, but it quickly became my go-to Thanksgiving recipe that I would make for my family. I had heard so many people say that making pie crust was difficult, but this recipe has always made it seem easy. If you haven’t made pie crust from scratch before, this is a great recipe to try.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup Butter Flavored Crisco that has been stored in the refrigerator or freezer
1/2 cup ice water
1 egg yoke

In a medium sized bowl, sift the flour and salt together. Rub small pieces of the cold butter into the flour mixture with your fingertips, about the size of peas. Use your hands or a pastry blender to incorporate the butter into the flour mixture.

Begin adding the water a little bit at a time until it forms a loose ball. Sprinkle with flour and divide the ball in two disks, wrapping each in wax paper for storing in the refrigerator. I would recommend storing in the refrigerator for about an hour, but it’s not necessary if you’d like to make the pie immediately. It will just help when you are rolling the dough.

When you are ready place one of the disks between two large pieces of wax paper and roll it into a 12-inch circle. Peel the top piece of wax paper off and turn the crust over into the pie pan; remove the wax paper. Trim around the edge and repeat with the remaining disk when you are ready for the top crust.

5-7 Honey Crisp apples
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp Butter Flavored Crisco
Turbinado sugar (optional)

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together sugar, cinnamon and salt. Peel and slice the apples in 1/2 inch slices. If you have a mandolin, I would recommend using it for this part, because you’ll get consistency with the thickness of the apples.

Toss the apples into the sugar mix, coating them well. Let them sit for 15-20 minutes to pick up some of the flavors. When they’re ready, place them in the pie pan. Dot the top of the apples with the butter and place the top crust over the apples, trim the edges and pinch the top and bottom crusts together.

Next mix the egg yolk and 1 tbsp of water in a small bowl and brush onto the top of the crust to get that nice golden color. If you have turbinado sugar, you can sprinkle evenly over the top of the pie for a more decorative look. Bake the pie for 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Salted caramel overnight French toast
From Elizabeth Hiett, special programs coordinator, Global Education Office

Salted caramel overnight French toast
Salted caramel overnight French toast

Thanksgiving is all about indulgence, in the friends and family with whom you gather, and the food you share with them. But who says that the indulgence begins/ends at the Thanksgiving dinner table?? Whip up a batch of this salted caramel overnight French toast on Wednesday evening, pop it in the oven Thursday morning, and pad your bellies with a little indulgence to fuel the Thanksgiving meal preparations. And any leftovers will be equally as good on Friday morning! (Or late, late Thursday evening ... it happens.)

8 tbsp butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
16 oz. Challah loaf, cut in half lengthwise, and then into 1-inch-thick slices
10 large eggs
1 1/2-2 cups mascarpone (the more the better — really yummy served alongside!)
1 1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp almond extract
Fresh strawberries, rinsed, sliced and served alongside
Syrup, to serve alongside

Heat butter, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it's all melted and golden brown. Turn heat down a bit to medium-low and simmer, stirring more often, until it reaches a copper color.

Pour the butter/sugar mixture into the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish. Tip the dish around so that it spreads evenly on the bottom. This is a bit tricky — you can spread it out with the back of a wooden spoon — just be sure to spread the caramel love! Put the caramel-slathered dish in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes until it hardens.

While the caramel is cooling, whisk together the eggs and 1/2 cup mascarpone. It will still be a little clumpy — totally fine. Add milk and almond extract and whisk to mix.

Take the baking dish out of the fridge, and arrange the Challah slices in it (not laying them flat). Doesn't need to be a perfect arrangement — don't stress about it. Just make sure that the bottom of the dish is covered with bread.

Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread, trying to get some on each slice. Once it's all poured in, tip the dish around a bit to make sure that the bottom is coated. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, take the baking dish out of the fridge 1 hour before you want to put it in the oven (or approximately 1.5 hours before you want to serve it). When I take the pan out, I spread the bigger clumps of mascarpone around more evenly (you don't have to do that — I just have a thing about evenly spreading stuff).

Heat oven to 375 degrees F and stick the dish (uncovered! No one wants plastic in their brunch) on the middle rack. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the bread is soft and moist, but not super wet, and the bread tips are browned a bit.

Remove pan from oven carefully. Run a knife along the edges of the bread to unstick it from the sides. Place a large platter upside down on top of the dish, and then do a flip-a-roo, so that the bread comes out caramel-side-up on the platter. The ooey gooey goodness should now be staring you right in the face, begging you to dig in.

Serve French toast with mascarpone and sliced strawberries on the side. Also, I mean, why not ... break out some syrup! Might as well go all out. And enjoy every last sweet, indulgent bite!


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