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
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!