Pour the melted butter into a 13 X 9 baking dish and use a pastry brush to coat the sides and bottom of the dish. Set aside. (If you don't have a pastry brush, you can use a piece of waxed paper or your hands to spread the butter around.)
Cut the very ends of the loaf off and set them aside for another use. Then, slice the loaf into 1" thick slices. Layer them in buttered baking dish. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, spices, salt and orange zest together until well combined.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla until yolks are broken and well combined with the whites. Whisk in the sugar/spice mixture until combined. Then, whisk in the eggnog and milk.
Pour the custard mixture very slowly over the bread slices layered in the pan making sure you cover all exposed surfaces. You don't want any unsoaked areas.
Place a piece of plastic wrap loosely over the soaking bread slices. Take a smaller baking dish (or your hands) and push down firmly on the slices, making the custard squeeze up and over the bread. This will help insure all areas are well soaked. Repeat this step a few times, making sure your custard doesn't rise up over the edges of your baking dish.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, remove the dish from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Give the bread one more press so that the top of the bread gets a final bathing in the custard.
Remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the top generously with raw turbinado sugar or other coarse sugar. I used about 3 Tablespoons.
Bake for 30-35 minutes on the middle rack or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Move the dish to an upper rack and broil for a minute or two, just until the top gets golden brown.
Serve plain, or with syrup, powdered sugar, whipped cream, fresh fruit or other desired toppings.
*Insure that you use a baking pan that can go from the refrigerator to the oven without breaking. I used a glass pyrex dish.
*For the bread, I used a crusty loaf of Italian bread and sliced it myself. I got about 13 good 1" slices out of mine. A sturdy bread is important, one that can soak up liquid and keep its shape. If you use a softer bread, expect a different texture. Also, a softer bread might not hold up to being compressed in the dish, so you might want to skip that step. The bread I used bounced back after being compressed.
*Adjust sweetness to your preference. You can omit the 1/4 cup sugar used in the custard or increase it to 1/2 cup. I wouldn't omit the raw sugar topping because it adds a great texture.
*You can adjust the eggnog/milk ratio, using more eggnog or less eggnog as long as you use three cups total. This means you can also use a non-dairy egg nog or your favorite milk. Just remember, more fat gives this a creamier, richer taste. Less fat will be less creamy, less rich. For this special occasion, I went with a full fat egg nog and whole milk.
*Leftovers can be stored covered in the refrigerator. You can reheat in the microwave, though the top will no longer be crisp. You can briefly broil the top to bring back some crispness. Just be careful not to over cook.
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