Baked french toast casserole with custardy brioche and a crunchy cinnamon crust. Toasted bread cubes soak in a sweet spiced cream mixture then baked until golden and crisp. It’s a home run breakfast or brunch to feed a crowd.
A decadent spin on a classic breakfast recipe
French toast is an indulgent way to satisfy morning cravings, but dipping and pan-frying each slice of bread takes time. It also results in cold soggy pieces if not eaten right away. Not great for feeding a crowd. Thankfully, these issues can be avoided.
I re-engineered the recipe into a baked breakfast casserole that can even be prepared the day before and refrigerate overnight. The key to custardy centers with crunchy tops is to use bread cubes instead of slices and then dry them out before soaking. This allows maximum absorption of the sweet and creamy liquid. A cinnamon-sugar mixture is sprinkled on top to add extra crispiness on the top of each slice.
Use brioche or challah bread for a heartier, thick French toast. These are yeast-leavened bread that has some sugar and eggs added to the dough for a richer taste and denser interiors. I use a similar recipe for Italian Easter bread, which is perfect to use for this recipe.
Crusty French bread or sourdough loaves can also be used for a less sweet and lighter texture. Cut the bread into about ¾-inch cubes to increase the surface area to help soak up the custard.
Toast the bread
Gently toasting the bread in the oven quickly stales the bread instead of waiting for the loaves to dry out over time. Speed up the process by baking smaller pieces on a sheet tray. The dry heat extracts most of the moisture and dehydrates the surface, similar to creating croutons.
This process prevents overly soggy French toast. Instead, the interior is tender, moist, with some chew. The top of the toast is crispy, the perfect contrast to the soft center.
Make a custard
After testing various ratios of eggs to dairy for the custard, I found that 8 eggs to 4 cups of cream/milk are the right combination. Slightly more milk is used than cream so that the custard is creamy but not too heavy.
Half and half can be substituted for the milk and cream if you’re in a pinch. I did a savvy calculation to find that it’s just a few grams lower in fat.
Soak the bread
Now that the water has moved out of the bread, it’s time for the egg mixture to move in. The bread should have ample time to absorb vanilla-infused liquid and feel a little mushy when poked. There will be some residual liquid on the edges, which will help to lock the casserole together during baking.
A minimum of 4 hours is needed for soaking, or made into an overnight French toast casserole when covered and refrigerated up to 24 hours. I prefer this option so I can just grab and bake at the start of the morning.
Bake the casserole
Moderate oven temperatures of 350 degrees ensure that the custard mixture sets. The eggs slowly firm up and the surface dries just enough to give a crunchy crust after about 45 minutes. A sprinkling of cinnamon sugar mixture right before baking adds extra-warm sweet aromas. Make sure to allow the casserole to cool slightly before serving to make it easier to cut.
Make it ahead of time
This casserole beautifully reheats in the microwave. Slice it up for pre-portioned pieces for a quick breakfast, and reheat for 1 to 2 minutes until warmed through. If you like a crunchy top, broil it for a few minutes after microwaving. It still tastes delicious up to 5 days if tightly covered and refrigerated, making for a great meal prep dish!
French toast toppings
- Pure maple syrup
- Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries
- Homemade warm berry compote
- Crunchy nuts like pecans, walnuts, and almonds
- Whipped cream
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Knowing when it’s done cooking
Visually check for the custard to be set. It should not be jiggly in the center when lightly shaken. A thermometer can also be used to check the internal temperature. Custards are typically ready to eat at 175ºF (80ºC).
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Baked French Toast Casserole
- 16 ounce challah loaf, or French bread, sourdough, brioche
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- 8 large eggs
- ¼ cup brown sugar, divided
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 ¼ cups whole milk
- 1 ¾ cups heavy cream
- powdered sugar, for sprinkling
- pure maple syrup, for topping
- fruit for topping, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries
- Set the oven rack to the center position and preheat to 300ºF (149ºC).
- Cut the bread into ¾-inch cubes.
- Spread the bread on a large sheet pan or two smaller pans. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through toasting. The bread should be lightly golden, dry and crisp.
- Cool on the tray for 10 minutes.
- Grease the inside of a 13x9-inch casserole dish with softened butter.
- Transfer toasted bread to the casserole dish and arrange in an even layer.
- In a medium-sized bowl whisk eggs, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, vanilla, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until well combined.
- Whisk in milk and heavy cream.
- Pour the custard mixture evenly over the bread. Press the bread into the liquid to submerge. Allow the bread to soak up the custard mixture at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Some liquid will still remain on the edges but the bread should feel slightly mushy.
- In a small bowl combine 1 tablespoon brown sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Right before baking sprinkle evenly over the top of the casserole.
- Set the oven rack to the center position and preheat to 350ºF (177ºC).
- Place the casserole dish on a large sheet pan. Bake until the custard is set, puffed up, and reaches an internal temperature in the center of 175 to 190ºF (79 to 88ºC), about 50 to 60 minutes.
- If the bread starts to brown too quickly, loosely cover the top with foil after about 45 minutes of baking.
- Cool for 30 minutes before serving. The casserole will slightly decrease in volume as it cools.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar right before serving and add desired toppings.
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