Overnight French Toast Casserole

Breakfast, Brunch, Southern / Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

For three solid years, I envied that tower of French toast.

My mom is a high school librarian, and when my sister and I were kids, she’d drop us off at our neighbors’ house to wait for the bus while she drove to work. We’d get there about an hour before the bus was due and wait inside while the family had breakfast. Morning after morning, we’d open the door to the scent of bacon frying and pancakes on the griddle. Or the sight of plates piled high with freshly buttered biscuits, sausage and fried eggs. Or the French toast! We’d already eaten breakfast, but a bowl of Cheerios is no match for a hot breakfast on a cold morning. We’d take our seats at the kitchen table and steel ourselves for the daily agony of watching those biscuits and pancakes and sausages disappear before our eyes.

Forget waterboarding. If you really want to torture someone, withhold bacon. (Not that that’s what this family did. We didn’t feel entitled to their breakfast. We simply lusted after it in our hearts.)

We understood that Mama didn’t have time to be our short-order cook. She needed to get to work. We needed to get to the bus stop. Truthfully, we liked cereal. But every day, when we got to that House of Never-Ending Pancakes, we wanted that hot breakfast like worms want dirt. And now, my 6-year-old nephew Jack is the same way. In fact, he and my sister struck a deal over it. If Jack fights his sleepyhead tendencies and gets ready for school early, she’ll make him a hot breakfast that morning instead of cereal. So far, he’s jumping out of bed like the covers are on fire for a plate of scrambled eggs.

As for me, I firmly believe that one of the great unsung joys of adulthood is the ability to choose one’s own breakfast. And that brings me to Virginia Willis’ French Toast Casserole.

Sweet goodness. This one surprised me.

It’s so incredibly simple. Some melted butter and brown sugar in the bottom of a baking dish. A few slices of bread arranged on top and moistened with a mixture of eggs, whole milk, vanilla, cinnamon and ginger. A scattering of chopped pecans over the top. Refrigerate it overnight, and bake it in the morning. You can dust it with powdered sugar and top it with sorghum or maple syrup, but the surprising thing is that it doesn’t need it. The casserole isn’t dry. It isn’t eggy. It isn’t cloying or complicated.

It’s just so incredibly good.

You could save this recipe for a weekend or holiday, but why not put it together Sunday night and start your week off right? Turn Monday morning into something to get excited about, for you and your family.

With every decadent bite, I like to imagine myself leaning across the sands of time (and over that neighbor family’s kitchen table) to give my younger self a fist bump. I whisper, “Stay hungry, Kid. And buy stock in Apple. Then you can have all the French toast you want.”

French Toast Casserole

Adapted from Virginia Willis’ “Bon Appetit, Y’all”

In a perfect world, you’ll be able to find brioche or challah for this recipe, but if your world isn’t so perfect, go with what you can get your hands on – French bread, country loaf, Texas toast, even cinnamon-raisin bread.

Serves 8

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 loaf brioche or challah, sliced 1 1/2 inches thick (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 8 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • Accompaniments: confectioners’ sugar; sorghum, cane or maple syrup
  1. Combine the melted butter and brown sugar in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
  2. Arrange the bread slices in the dish. (It’s fine if they overlap.)
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Pour the mixture over the bread, and let it soak in.
  4. Top the bread slices evenly with the pecans.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 3 to 12 hours.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the meantime, take the casserole out of the refrigerator, and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  7. Bake the casserole until it’s browned and set, 30 to 45 minutes. Let it cool slightly on a wire rack. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the casserole, and serve it with sorghum, cane, or maple sugar.

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48 thoughts on “Overnight French Toast Casserole

  1. I can't believe the torture you endured as a child!!!! Yikes. This french toast sounds really wonderful. Thank heavens you're an adult now and can have these kind of dishes for breakfast!

  2. That sounds so easy! Totally ready to go in the morning! Not to mention the fact that it also sounds DELICIOUS! I love a tasty special breakfast. I am SO trying this on the weekend!

  3. I was the stay-at-home breakfast cooking mom to my working sister's "teach 'em early to pour their own cereal" approach. Good to know it works both ways. The recipe looks divine.

  4. Do you think this could be divided up and baked individually? My husband loooves French toast but I'm not as much of a fan, nor do I really want that many calories first thing in the morning. I'd love to be able to treat him, though.

  5. Thanks so much for this yummy piece! Glad you liked my French Toast Casserole.
    Bon Appétit, Y'all! Virginia
    PS Elizabeth, I certainly do think it could be made into individual portions, just decrease the cooking time.

  6. Generally speaking, I'm a pancakes type a girl, but reading how simple and how good this french toast is…I'm considering being a convert to french toast-ism…at least for one morning anyway! LOL

    1. I don't consider myself a French toast kind of girl, either, but this is something different. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

  7. So weird, I actually just pulled out a very similar recipe of mine a couple of nights ago in prep for a brunch at a friend's house this weekend. I'm even planning to post it next week on my blog! Great minds think alike ;-)

    Speaking of alike, do you call your mom "Mama"? So do I! I don't hear many people use that term, and my friends in college even used to poke fun at me for it (in a nice way of course).

    1. Ha! 'Tis the season for French toast casserole. Can't wait to see yours! You can never have too many recipes for it.

      Yes, I call my mom "Mama"! I guess it doesn't sound very sophisticated, but I'm good with that. ;)

  8. This seems perfect for an overnight company breakfast! Definitely going to try it out for Thanksgiving house guests. Could you add bananas or strawberries? If it has fruit, it's gotta be healthy, right? ;o)

    1. It'd be just the thing for overnight company! Good idea. I did add fruit (to make the calories evaporate, of course), but I just sliced fresh fruit and added it to my plate with the hot French toast casserole, because I like that hot/cold thing.

  9. This looks lovely. I have to admit, that on some level, your post broke my heart. As a new mom, I can't stand the idea of my child sitting in someone else's kitchen, wanting a hot breakfast. Ugh. It kills me. I don't know how I'll do it (aside from getting up at the crack of dawn), but this post made me want to make sure that my boy goes off to school with a hot meal in his belly.

    1. Oh, Allison. We didn't feel unloved. We just wanted those biscuits! Even though we had cereal on the weekdays, Mama always spoiled us on the weekends with the best breakfasts – cinnamon toast, monkey bread, biscuits and jam, blueberry muffins. NOT having big breakfasts the rest of the week made those weekend breakfasts something special. I really wouldn't have traded. Our mom loved her job (and still does), and that made a big impression, too.

    1. It's a natural sweetener that comes from crushing sorghum stalks and cooking down their syrup. The process is similar to crushing sugar cane and boiling down its juice to make cane syrup.

      If you're near a Whole Foods, look for Muddy Pond sorghum in the syrup section.

  10. I agree – withholding bacon is the cruelest form of torture! This looks like a wonderful weekend brunch dish.

  11. My brother has been working outside out of town all week, so I pulled this casserole out of the oven as he and my dad walked in from hunting (I think they had ice on their noses) and they LOVED it – as did I. This is definitely a keeper and I can't wait until we have overnight guests so I can wow them with this! I used country bread and it turned out perfectly!!

  12. Awesome! This week is education week at my daughter's school and I volunteered to bring in something for their breakfast. This would be perfect. Thanks!

  13. Made this last night and we had a wonderful breakfast this morning!! Not too sweet, not too gooey, it was just perfect! Thanks Rebecca!

  14. I made this for brunch today with a friend–I had 4 slices of leftover white restaurant bread, and milk and eggs that need using before I move home for the winter break. I scaled the recipe down (ish) and used 1/2 cup skim milk and 2 eggs, and it was absolutely delicious. I didn't have any ground ginger, but I didn't miss it. The pecans were a wonderful touch!

  15. could you use texas toast and if so , would you lay the bread down flat or tear it into pieces or lay them down and overlap them.

  16. I saw this recipe in one of the Chicago papers and made it this past weekend. It was a HUGE hit. My wife & kids were nuts about it. Very rich & filling so I brought leftovers in to the office yesterday and reheated some for myself and a coworker. Now I'm sending her this link so she can download the recipe. Rebecca is absolutely right…it's not dry or eggy…and you really don't need syrup. Very tasty and a new tradition in our household. Thanks so much!

  17. Sorry for the LATE comment, but this looks to die for and it will definitely be Saturday breakfast for my husband and I… a quick suggestion, though: I, too, can NEVER find a nice loaf of brioche or challah, but have been introduced to the amazing cookbook that is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day… and with the combination of their really easy and really fast homemade brioche recipe and this recipe- you can't go wrong! Making this with homemade brioche is going to make it all the more delicious and rewarding… especially since I have some bread in the oven right now!

    Thank you for all of the great recipes!

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