Whenever a special breakfast was needed, Melissa Clark's Buttery Croissant Casserole has always been one of my go-to favorites. Nice and savory, it's always a hit. But what about sweet? Apple cheesecake danish has always had a soft spot in my love-handles, so this recipe became an amalgamation of the casserole, the apple filling, and a cheesecake swirl. And as if the custard in the casserole isn't good enough, a warm Creme Anglais drizzled over the top will send anyone's blood tests into red-zone territory. I've made this having had the casserole rest only 1 hour before cooking and up to overnight in the refrigerator, so the rest time is pretty flexible. The Creme Anglais can me made a day in advance. Refrigerate and gently warm up before serving. —Pete
Spread croissants on a large baking sheet and toast, cut side up, until golden brown, (watch carefully to see that they do not burn, they go from “not quite there” to “oops” really fast). Let cool, then tear into bite-size pieces.
Peel and core the apples. Cut into thin wedges. Stir 4 tablespoons sugar with 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ground ginger in a small bowl. Add sliced apples and toss to combine. Heat 4 tbsp butter in a non-stick oven-safe skillet over medium heat until melted. Add apples and cinnamon-sugar to pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until apples have softened and are beginning to caramelize, 6 to 8 minutes.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with 1/2 cup sugar in an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. (If no mixer, then soften the cream cheese in a microwave). Then add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, place 3 cups milk, 1 cup cream and cook until almost at boiling point. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Break 8 eggs into a separate bowl and whisk. Drizzle eggs into milk while whisking vigorously. Set aside.
Oil a 9 x 13-inch dish (or something close works well.) Place croissant pieces into pan, spreading it out evenly over the bottom. Reserve some pieces if it looks overcrowded, the apples and custard will be going in next. You can always add them after the custard is added. Add about ¾ of the apple mixture to the croissant pieces and toss to distribute evenly. Reserve the remaining apple pieces for topping. Refrigerate them if not baking until the next day.
Pour custard into pan, pressing croissants down gently to help absorb the liquid. Add any remaining croissant pieces if you feel there's room.
Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 - 2 hours minimum. You can allow to sit overnight, but don’t go longer than 12 hours, the croissants begin to disintegrate and the texture will be very different.
When you’re ready to bake the casserole, heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the wrap from the croissant mix. Reserving about ¼ of cheese mixture, press heaping tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture evenly into the croissant mixture (attempt to have a dollop size for each serving). Quickly warm the remaining cheese mixture in a microwave (10 -15 seconds) until the cheese is loose and runny. Pour the cheese mixture over the top of the croissant mixture.
Evenly place the remaining apple pieces on the top. Transfer to oven and bake until casserole is golden brown and just firm to the touch, 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine ½ cup milk and ½ cup cream and 1 tsp vanilla extract in heavy medium saucepan. Bring milk mixture to simmer. Remove from heat. Whisk 3 egg yolks and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into yolk mixture. Return custard to saucepan. Stir over low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 5 minutes (do not boil). Strain sauce into bowl. Cover and keep warm. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Gently warm up the custard before serving)
Place servings into individual plates and drizzle warm custard of the casserole.