With the holidays quickly approaching, we will soon be planning for special family breakfasts. However, I know that the day of the holiday can be overwhelming with everything that needs to get done. If you are looking for a breakfast or brunch recipe to feed a crowd, read on to learn how to make this overnight baked French toast casserole, easy and delicious! This is by far the recipe that people request the most often from me.
Where I work, we used to have a monthly breakfast to celebrate anyone who was having a birthday. We would take turns supplying the food for the event. Being that we already had hectic morning commutes, most of the breakfasts featured cookies, brownies, and bagels. Since we live on Long Island, we have some of the best bagels in the world. So everyone looked forward to the breakfasts even it meant grabbing a bagel to eat later.
One month, one of my coworkers made a French toast casserole out of slices of Italian bread. Not only was it a change of pace from “room temperature” foods, but it was delicious as well. We all marveled at how she had time to make this big batch of French toast on a workday. She told us that she prepared it the night before, and then baked it that morning. Now that sounded doable!
A few months later, during our winter break, I hosted a brunch for friends at my home. I was trying to figure out all the different dishes I wanted to make but realized that several of them required “hands-on” attention right before serving. I remembered the French toast casserole from my coworker but knew she was away on vacation so I did not want to bother her for the recipe. Instead, I started googling “baked French toast casserole easy” and found one that used French bread. It had hundreds of comments with almost as many suggestions on how to switch it up.
I ended up combining several different suggestions to make a challah French toast bake recipe. Every Long Island diner worth its salt makes challah French toast, so this seemed like a hearty alternative to French bread.
What is Challah Bread?
Challah bread is traditionally used in Jewish celebrations. Its egg-enriched dough gives its interior a beautiful golden color and chewy texture. While it is usually braided into an oblong loaf shape, it is sometimes found in a round shape, especially around the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Its circular shape is said to symbolize the cyclical nature of the year, as well as a crown for God.
My local supermarket sells challah bread in the fresh bakery section. While it is not made in-house, its supplier is in the New York City area and delivers fresh loaves in plastic bags each week. They sell a plain version, as well as a raisin version. One loaf is the perfect size to make one 9×13-inch casserole dish of French toast.
There have been times that I have made this challah French toast casserole in September, and the only challah sold in stores was the round version. It is a little trickier to use a round loaf since the slices from the center of the circle need to be cut in half in order to fit “shingle-style” in the casserole dish. Or you could leave them their full width since some people might prefer a big slice!
Brioche bread is similar to challah bread. However, brioche bread contains lots of butter, while challah bread is made with oil. You can definitely substitute brioche for challah in this recipe.
Easy Enough for Beginning Bakers
If you can beat an egg and slice a loaf of bread, then you can make this baked French toast casserole easy recipe. Seriously, those are the only skills you need.
The night before, beat six eggs in a bowl with a whisk. Then add in the milk, half and half, vanilla extract, and ground cinnamon and whisk that together.
Use butter to grease the bottom and sides of a casserole dish. Slice the challah bread using a serrated knife to make 1-inch thick slices. Lay them in the casserole dish using a shingle technique to overlap the slices.
Pour the liquid mixture over the bread slices. Don’t worry if it looks like some slices did not get evenly coated, as they will soak up the batter overnight. Cover the casserole dish and refrigerate overnight.
Finishing Touches in the Morning
The next morning, as the oven is preheating to 350 degrees F, melt a stick of butter in a small saucepan. Add in the brown sugar and light corn syrup and heat until bubbling.
Flip the bread slices over by tilting them in the opposite direction. Then pour the butter and brown sugar mixture over the bread, making sure to coat the edges of the slices that are exposed. Bake the casserole for 40 minutes.
Your home will smell glorious as the French toast casserole bakes. Be careful as you remove it from the oven, as it will be bubbling. Let it sit for a couple of minutes to give it time to stop bubbling before serving.
You do not need syrup or butter with this french toast, as the brown sugar mixture you poured on top right before baking gives it an incredible caramelized syrup.
If you are serving other items at the breakfast, you can plan on each person eating one to one and a half slices. I typically get 13 or 14 slices out of one loaf of challah, so that is enough for about 10 people. If the French toast casserole will be the only food at the breakfast, then count on two slices per person.
Refrigerate leftovers in a covered container, if your family and friends have not eaten every last bit of the casserole. You can reheat slices in the microwave or toaster.
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Taking the French Toast Casserole On the Road
I make this challah French toast casserole for my coworkers at least once a year. I bake it while I am getting ready for the day, and then let it cool on the stovetop for a few minutes. Then I put it into an insulated carrier bag along with a hot pack on top of the lid. Even an hour and a half later, the French toast is still warm. I have the Anchor Hocking tote and the Pyrex tote. Both came with 9 by 13-inch glass casserole dishes, plastic lids, hot/cold packs, and the insulated carrying case.
To really keep them secure in the car, I recommend using a Stupid Car Tray. Yes, that is really what it is called! It acts like a car seat for food carriers, so the container will not slide around your trunk or floor.
My coworker from whom I got the idea for the French toast casserole has since passed away. Each year around the time of her birthday, we hold a breakfast at work in her memory. We miss her dearly. Whenever I make the baked French toast casserole, I always remember her fondly, not only as an outstanding educator but as one of the kindest, most upbeat people I have ever met.
Overnight Challah French Toast Casserole
- 9×13-inch casserole dish
- 1 loaf challah bread with or without raisins, approximately 1 pound loaf
- 6 eggs
- 1 ¼ cups milk
- 1 cup half-and-half cream
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ cup unsalted butter plus more to grease the dish
- 1 cup light brown sugar packed
- 3 tbsp light corn syrup
The Night Before
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 by 13-ich casserole dish.
- Slice the challah bread into 1 inch thick slices using a serrated bread knife. Arrange them in the casserole dish using a shingle pattern to overlap the slices slightly.1 loaf challah bread
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add in the milk, half-and-half, vanilla extract and cinnamon, and whisk to combine.6 eggs, 1 ¼ cups milk, 1 cup half-and-half cream, 2 tsp vanilla extract, ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- Pour the liquid mixture over the sliced bread in the casserole dish. Try to coat each slice.
- Cover the dish and refrigerate overnight.
In the Morning
- Approximataely one hour before you want to serve the casserole, preheat the oven to 350°F.
- While the oven is preheating, melt the stick of butter on medium heat in a small saucepan. Add in the brown sugar and corn syrup. Stir frequently until the mixture is bubbling.½ cup unsalted butter, 1 cup light brown sugar, 3 tbsp light corn syrup
- Flip the slices of bread from front to back. Pour the butter and brown sugar mixture over the bread. Make sure to coat the exposed edges of the bread.
- Bake in the oven uncovered for 40 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
- One loaf of oblong challah bread will yield 12-14 one-inch-thick slices. Plan on a serving size of 1 slice per person if you are serving other entrees, or 2 slices per person if the French toast is the only entree.
- You do not need to “stale the bread” the way you do with traditional French toast made on a griddle. Instead, you can use fresh or slightly stale bread.
- Cut the baked casserole with a spatula.
- Store leftovers in a covered dish in the refrigerator.
- Reheat leftovers in the microwave for one minute on high for one serving.