For as long as she can remember, Emily Williams has looked forward to Christmas Day at her mother’s home in Gainesville for two reasons.
First is unwrapping the presents from underneath the tree with her parents, brother and grandparents around her. Then second is the breakfast meal, specifically the French toast her mother, Crevolyn Wiley, made each Christmas.
"I don’t ever remember not having it," said Williams, who will spend today with her family in Hall County.
The Gainesville native explained each Christmas morning she and her siblings-— both adults now — got up to find Santa had arrived and proceeded to open presents.
"And (we would) eat right afterward," she said. "And it was one of those things where everybody sits down and is ready to eat."
Crevolyn Wiley said she started the family tradition because she could prepare the dish the night before and put it in the oven in the morning while her children opened presents. When the gifts were unwrapped, the French toast was ready to eat.
"And I would do bacon on the side," she said and then chuckled. "We love bacon at our house. I don’t eat it very often, so it’s a treat."
Williams said she and her brother look forward to the meal every year.
"We can’t wait," she said. "Even though we are grown and married, we always come back on Christmas."
The holiday meal is not the only breakfast meal Wiley prepares the night before a holiday. In the past, Wiley’s family has been treated to a slow-cooker breakfast casserole at Thanksgiving. Wiley, who has recently published the cookbook "Cooking with Crevolyn," said the quick-and-easy recipe allows her to focus her energy on the Thanksgiving meal instead of a breakfast dish.
"You put all the ingredients in (a slow cooker), turn it on at 10 o’clock and let it cook for 8 hours," she said. "Then it’s going to be ready the next morning and you won’t have to think about it."
Williams said the recipe isn’t as much a family tradition as the French toast, but it’s easily accessible by family members on Thanksgiving.
"Everybody can eat when they have a chance," she said.
To test the theory of preparing breakfast food overnight, Times staffers made the French toast and breakfast casserole one Sunday night. Then it was finished baking the first thing Monday morning and served to colleagues. In a landslide, all Times staffers agreed both dishes were just as good as freshly made French toast and other breakfast casseroles.
"I had the French toast and it was delish — very yummy," Alana Swain said. "I liked that it was crunchy and toasty on the outside, but the inside was still soft."
Kerri Ivie tried the sausage and egg casserole.
"It was great, just the right texture and very tasty without being very salty," she said. "It’s a big plus when dealing with sausage!"
Times staff reporter Savannah King taste-tested both dishes.
"The French toast was delicious," she said. "It was soggy like French toast is supposed to be, but the top layer was caramelized."
"The casserole was hearty, but there was some flavor in it that was particularly nice."