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story.lead_photo.caption This breakfast dish can be dressed up with sweet or savory sides.

French toast casserole is the perfect New Year's Day breakfast. It serves the whole family at once, can be dressed up with sweet or savory sides, and, with our recipe, can be prepped ahead of time and baked off when everyone wakes up.

But there's one problem with this sunny scenario: Most versions look and taste a lot like bread pudding — soft and squishy and nothing like conventional crisp-crusted French toast. And though they usually deliver decent flavor, most are too sweet, even before you pour on the syrup. We wanted this to look and taste like breakfast not dessert.

Our recipe uses sturdy potato bread instead of white bread or challah. The robust slices are just big enough to fit cleanly in the dish, and they soak up the egg mixture and bake into a tidy casserole that is easily divided into portions. We developed this recipe using Martin's Potato Bread, which has 16 slices per loaf, so you'll need to buy two loaves. With other brands, it may also be necessary to trim the slices to fit six in a single layer.

We used the familiar flavorings — brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg — but in quantities that didn't overly sweeten the dish. And we call for a final sprinkle of toasted sliced almonds for a satisfying crunch.

We also made sure the casserole could be assembled and soaked in the custard overnight, so you can do the work the night before and reap the benefits in the morning. Good news for planners, procrastinators and late sleepers.

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Makes: 6-8 servings

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup packed (5 1/4 ounces) brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon salt

18 slices potato sandwich bread

2 1/2 cups whole milk

6 large eggs

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Confectioners' sugar

1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-by 9-inch baking dish with softened butter. Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together in a bowl.

2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the brown sugar mixture evenly over bottom of the prepared dish. Place six bread slices (use bread heels here) in an even layer in the bottom of the dish. Brush the bread with 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the sugar mixture.

3. Place six bread slices in a single layer over the first layer, brush with 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter, then sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the sugar mixture. Place the remaining six bread slices over the previous layer and brush with 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk and eggs together until well combined. Pour the milk mixture over the bread and press lightly to submerge. Sprinkle with almonds and the remaining heaping 3 tablespoons of the sugar mixture.

5. Bake until the casserole is slightly puffed and golden brown and bubbling around the edges, about 30 minutes. Transfer the casserole to a wire rack, brush with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter, and let it cool for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and serve.

Recipe notes: The assembled casserole, minus almonds and remaining heaping 3 tablespoons sugar mixture, can be covered and refrigerated for up to 12 hours. When ready to cook, sprinkle with almonds and sugar mixture and bake as directed in Step 5.

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