French Breakfast Puddings

This combination of French toast and bread pudding is baked in individual portions, making breakfast or brunch a more sociable proposition: you won't have to stand at the stove turning French toast on the griddle while everyone else eats! We like to top the puddings with bacon or berries (or sometimes both), though ham or sausage or slices of banana or cinnamon-dusted apple would also be yummy.

4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) milk, half-and-half, or light cream, or a 12-ounce can evaporated milk
3 tablespoons (1 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
big pinch of nutmeg
a generous 5 cups cubed fresh bread* (about 9 ounces)

about 3/4 cup raspberries or other berries (frozen are fine); or sliced bananas or apples; or uncooked breakfast sausage, thin-sliced ham, or strip bacon (cut the ham in 2 1/2-inch squares, the bacon in 2 1/2-inch pieces)
brown sugar

*Use a substantial white bread, like pain de mie or a dense artisan loaf; or try oatmeal bread. Avoid "air bread," or any other soft, squishy bread that's liable to fall apart when soaked in milk.

Mix the eggs, milk, sugar, salt, vanilla, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir in the bread cubes and let the mixture soak at room temperature for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Note: For banana puddings, slice 1 banana in 1/2-inch slices, and stir with the bread into the egg/milk mixture.)

While the bread is soaking, preheat the oven to 350F, and grease 12 silicone muffin cups, or line a muffin tin with papers, and grease the papers.

Spoon the soaked bread and any remaining liquid into the prepared muffin cups, distributing it evenly. Place berries, sliced apple, or uncooked meat on top, then cover each pudding with a shower of brown sugar; 1 to 2 teaspoons, to taste, should be about right. No need to cook the meat first; it'll bake along with the puddings.

Bake the puddings for 30 minutes, until the tops are brown and they're bubbling gently. Remove them from the oven, wait about 5 minutes, and turn them out of the muffin cups onto a plate. Serve with syrup or raspberry sauce. Yield: 6 servings.