Fast and easy holiday breakfast redux

Bread pudding. Strata. Breakfast casserole. Do these words speak to you? If not…

How about French toast?

Ah, NOW we’re cooking with gas, right?

In reality, these are all basically the same dish. Bread pudding is usually sweet; strata, savory. A breakfast casserole can be both: salty bacon, chunks of sweet apple. But they all have one thing in common: bread soaked in milk and eggs, and baked into a creamy, no-stress breakfast (or brunch) for a crowd.

Since you assemble this dish the night before, then stick it in the fridge and bake the next morning, it’s perfect for Christmas morning. Or for any chilly morning in late December, whatever the holiday you choose to celebrate. Including a salute to the winter solstice, one of my personal favorite days of the year.

We’re all familiar with French toast. Soft, eggy bread, hot off the griddle, with a hint of nutmeg and a dash of cinnamon—makes a delicious mental picture, doesn’t it? Add melting butter and warm maple syrup, and there you have it: the antithesis to cold cereal.

But, like pancakes, like waffles, French toast involves standing at the stove minding the fry pan or griddle. And eating in shifts. Or staging cooked toast in the oven, where it gradually becomes limp and dry as you patiently cook enough for everyone to sit down and eat together.

The solution: Overnight French Toast.

Most recipes for baked French toast are just that: slices of bread bathed in egg and milk, and baked. But this one combines the flavors of French toast with the style of bread pudding or strata: cubes of bread tumbled together, soaked in milk and eggs, scented with spices, baked, and served by the soft spoonful.

Everyone eats at once. And everyone becomes a member of the Clean Plate Club, since each person takes as much (or little) as they like; no need for finicky eaters to endure an entire slice.

Ready? Let’s dig in.

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First, you need about 12 cups (about 20 ounces) of cubed bread, cut in 3/4” or so cubes. If you bake your own bread, this is a typical loaf using 3 cups of flour and about 1 cup of liquid. I like white bread; use oatmeal, whole wheat, or whatever you like, but understand that the French toast will taste like whatever bread you use; so if you’re just trying to get rid of a loaf of whole wheat because you don’t care for it… feed that bread to the birds, and use something tasty!

Spread the bread cubes on a pan for about an hour, or for up to a day. They don’t have to be stale, but it helps to air them out a bit so they don’t become totally soggy in the milk in which they’ll be soaking.

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Next, cook the bacon. The easiest way is to lay it in a rimmed pan—we’ve used a half-sheet pan here—and bake in a 350°F oven for about 30 minutes or so…

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…till it’s browned as much as you like. Note that a pound of breakfast sausage, cooked and crumbled, is also a tasty choice.

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Next, spread half of the bread cubes in a lightly greased 9” x 13” pan. Make sure it’s at least 2” deep; this recipe will fill the pan quite full.

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Cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces. I find a pair of scissors does the job nicely. NOT kitchen shears; I’ve never liked those. Just a pair of sturdy, plain desk scissors.

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Spread the chopped bacon atop the bread.

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Cover with the remaining bread. It’s OK for some of the bacon to show through.

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Pour in the egg-milk custard. It’s lightly sweetened, and scented with vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg, for that signature French toast flavor.

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Press the bread down into the milk, to submerge it as much as possible. Cover the pan, and refrigerate overnight.

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Next day, you’ll notice the bread has absorbed most of the milk.

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Bake the casserole for about an hour, till it’s golden brown. I’ve sprinkled cinnamon-sugar on top of this one, so it looks a bit darker than it would without the sugar. It may puff up, it may not; either way is fine.
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If you didn’t sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar before baking, you may want to do so afterwards. The sugar pretties it up; and it tastes great.

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YUM. You could also use confectioners’ sugar, as well.

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Serve warm; maple syrup is always welcome. As is bacon or sausage on the side, if it’s not already baked inside.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Overnight French Toast.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Main Street Bread Baking Company, Grapevine, TX: Bistro-Baked French Toast dusted with powdered sugar, topped with fresh strawberries and maple syrup, $7.95

Café to Go, Louisville, KY: Baked French toast topped with cinnamon, powdered sugar, apples, and pecans, served with a fruit garnish, $5.95

Bake at home: Overnight French Toast, 54¢

With bacon, 79¢

With strawberries and maple syrup, $1.52

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Angela

    Oh, if only my youngest wasn’t allergic to eggs!!! This would definitely make a great breakfast for Christmas morning. We do monkey bread for Christmas breakfast. I am going to try this one for coffee hour at church though. I do a sausage and egg casserole usually, but this would add some variety! Thank you for such great posts! By the way, completely unrelated, is there any substitute for dry milk powder in a yeast recipe? I have a recipe that I want try but have no dry milk.

    Thank you and have a wonderful Christmas!
    Angela in VA

    Angela, you can substitute regular liquid milk – for each tablespoon of milk powder, it’s about 1/4 cup milk,, of course reducing the liquid i the recipe by that amount. PJH

    Reply
  2. Gayle

    Looks delicious. I cook by bacon in the oven too, but clean up is so much easier when I use a sheet of the wonderful parchment paper you sell!

    Reply
  3. Lance

    Wow this looks great but in the recipe it says to use the custard mix with vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg but not how much of these. The overnight talks about vanilla and orange. Can you tell me how much I should use of the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg?

    Lance, please click through to the Overnight French Toast recipe at the end of the blog photos. Or just click from here: Overnight French Toast. You’ll always find a click-through to the online recipe from the blog; I wouldn’t leave you high and dry without specific ingredient amounts! PJH

    Reply
  4. lisa

    I would love to try this, but without the bacon. If I just remove the bacon from the recipe, do you think it will work out just as well?

    Of course – I just did it without the bacon this morning, served bacon on the side. Everyone here in the Web office was ecstatic… PJH

    Reply
  5. Lee Rose

    Oh YUM YUM. Amust for sure, hummm, wonder if I should do a practice run first. When no one is around, don’t want to spoil it for the others………LOL

    By the way, did you also use the half sheet pan to cook the french toast in?

    Tell me please, will your paper bake pans (the christmas tree) hold up under wet ingrediants such as this recipe?

    Can’t tell you how much I enjoy your blog since I found it, I have learned so much.

    Keep up the good work and happy holidays to all of you at Ka

    Lee, I used a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake pan to make the overnight French toast. A half-sheet pan is only ” deep, not deep enough for this casserole. I’m not sure I’d trust a paper pan to this liquid casserole; it would PROBABLY be OK, but I wouldn’t guarantee it. And what a mess if it wasn’t OK. Thanks for your kind words… PJH

    Reply
  6. Susan

    Love to try this or something similar while I have guests this holiday. I am vegan — do you think powdered egg substitute and rice or soy milk would work?

    Hehe that may be pushing the envelope so if you have a vegan suggestion for a morning brekkie, I’d love to hear it.

    Definitely soy or rice milk would work – not sure about the eggs…. sorry to say, I’m not at all versed in vegan cooking, so can’t help you there. Bet there are others who can chime in here, though- PJH

    Reply
  7. Morgan

    Wow. Wow. Wow

    Can you use skim- although I guess that wouldn’t matter if you are using bacon… but we use turkey bacon- that would work, too I suppose.

    Morgan, I always use 1% in our test kitchen recipes, and skim at home. skim would work beautifully here… Go for it. PJH

    Reply
  8. Missy

    oooh, this sounds wonderful, I’ve often looked for Baked French Toast recipes online, and never found any worth making (I can always tell what it’s going to taste like by reading the recipe). This one sounds delish!

    (and funny u mentioned Eggs Strata, I have the remains of one in the fridge right now!) :oP (eggs, cheddar, sausage, chives….YUMM!)

    Thanks again as always!

    and btw, I ordered and made your home made English Muffins recently and they are wonderful! Very much reminiscent of my Late English Granny’s recipe! And btw, I baked them instead of standing at the griddle and grilling both sides. They came out wonderful. Also, I plan to use corn meal as a dusting, instead of the semolina flour next time. I think that would be a great flavor enhancer!

    Thanks for the baked English muffin idea, Missy – I’ll have to give that a try. And yes, this casserole is just smooth, creamy, yummy… I actually like it better with the bacon on the side, but it’s about 50-50 with people liking it baked right in, or on the side. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  9. Barbara Ross

    Have you ever made it with Panetone or other fruited bread?

    No, but it sounds marvelous – I’m sure it would be delicious, and a great way to use up any leftover panettone or other fruited yeast breads. Thanks for sharing- PJH

    Reply
  10. Melinda

    Rice milk will work? *GRINNING!!!* You folks just made my day. My daughter has a dairy allergy, and it’s a bugger to see so many yummy breakfast concoctions that she can’t have. I might just have to try this one!

    Reply
  11. Grapefruit Girl

    I made this substituting 1/4 cup of vanilla soy yogurt for each egg in the recipe and soy milk instead of dairy milk, and it works beautifully. I am going to try a vegetarian version of this with veggie bacon, an maybe some chunks of caramelized apple too. Yum!

    Reply
  12. Claudia

    Sounds really great. i believe i will try it with chopped apples. i think maybe chopped cooked chicken or turkey with a bit of cranberry sauce might be good also. who knows all the hidden possibilities ????

    Reply
  13. Sandy

    Looks yummy! I would like to use eggnog instead of the milk but how would I substitute since eggnog has eggs in it too. I love eggnog french toast and I think eggnog would work in this recipe too. I would reduce the eggs to 7 and use the same amount of eggnog as milk. My one concern is with the amount of stabilizing gums in commercially prepared eggnog. There may be a testure change int eh custard. maybe not. Have fun with it. Frank from KAF.

    Reply
  14. Cynthia

    Oooo. Yummy! I made this with white whole wheat and a little bit of sourdough bread. I skipped the bacon and halved the recipe. Still wonderful. I will definitely make this again! Thanks KAF!

    You’re welcome, Cynthia – glad you enjoyed it (already!) – PJH

    Reply
  15. Susan Bostaph

    Just what I was looking for for Christmas morning!! — checked with my grown kids ( all at home this year!! yea!!) and got a definite “Go for it!!”

    You won’t be sorry… PJH

    Reply
  16. Üdo Ümami

    I did! Made it last night. Tossed it in the oven this morning and let me tell you my friend this was confection PERFECTION!!!!! My husband and I just ate our morning glory. Tasty and terrific! Four thumbs up! :) :) – The Üdos.

    Confection perfection – great turn of phrase, thanks for chiming in -PJH

    Reply
  17. Cynthia

    I made this for Christmas breakfast using a raisin/walnut loaf that I had in the freezer and my guys finished it up this morning… it was easy and totally delicious! I did it without the bacon and served Harrington’s Canadian bacon on the side… bliss.
    Any breakfast that can be done the night before is my idea of holiday heaven.
    Thanks!
    CZK (formerly of Strafford!)

    Cynthia – formerly of Strafford – you missed the 24″ of snow! The raisin-walnut baked French toast sounds delightful, as does the Canadian bacon… Thanks for sharing – PJH

    Reply
  18. ChrisC

    I made this for Christmas morning breakfast, assembling it Christmas Eve and putting it in the oven just as people were rising. My bread cubes were half English Toasting bread and half cinnamon raisin bread and I served the breakfast meat on the side, like Cynthia posted above.

    It was such a big hit with everyone — with all three generations at my house for Christmas. It was perfect. Thanks so much!

    You’re welcome, Chris – glad it worked out so well for you! – PJH

    Reply
  19. GloriaPGH

    This one is a keeper!! I knew it as soon as I opened the email and read the recipe. I halved the recipe, since it was just my husband and I, and made in on Christmas Eve morning. I know a recipe is well received when my husband tells me that I can make it again any time!! I will definitely make this again … and again, and again and again.

    Thank you for so freely sharing your wonderful recipes

    Reply
  20. Laura

    My husband is The Baker in our family, and he will only use King Arthur Flour. I’m new to baking, but am absolutely loving these blogs and your recipes! Everything I’ve tried to make so far has come out great! Thanks for the support and inspiration!

    Last year was my first time making Christmas Morning breakfast by myself and I chose this baked french toast recipe — it was simple, easy to do, and absolutely scrumptious. Quite the coup for the “newbie” to place on the table in front of the “pro”! I’m making it again this year!

    I see a future for TWO pros in the family, Laura… Keep up the good work! PJH

    Reply
  21. Donna

    Is the bread soggy in this recipe since it is cubed?

    Yes, Donna, it’s soft (though I wouldn’t call it soggy) – think French toast, about the same consistency. If you’ve ever had bread pudding – this is the same thing. PJH

    Reply
  22. jstettler

    Oops! I made this for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. It was really too soggy for us. I baked it much longer than the 60 – 70 minutes and egg liquid was still bubbling in it. It probably was in the oven about 1 and 1/2 hours and it was very wet inside when we cut into it. I’m pretty sure I did everything the recipe suggested – bacon, 12 cups of cubed bread ( a small rustic white loaf and added some sourdough to measure up to 12 cups of bread). Oh well, it was an experiment.

    I have three thoughts: 1.) was your bread very dry before you mixed everything together? That would impact this greatly! The drier the bread, the more it soaks up the custard 2.) did you allow the strata to sit overnight before baking it off? Allowing the bread to soak up the liquid is crucial here. 3.) Did you allow the strata to rest after baking? Letting it hang out for a good hour before serving seems like a long time, but it allows the custard to finish cooking and firm up. These tips might help if you decide to try it again! -Kim@KAF

    Reply
  23. cjpope

    Planning to make this for Mother’s day – any reason you can think of why I can’t leave the bread slices whole? Small children will expect it to ‘look’ more like french toast. I plan to slice the bread and let it dry a bit before assembling and putting in the fridge… thanks for an easier way to ‘do’ french toast!

    No reason not to use whole slices – go for it. You might also enjoy our Praline French Toast recipe, which starts with whole slices of bread and rests overnight, making it easy to bake first thing in the morning. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply

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