My friend Allie, of Grover Cookie fame, recently hosted a brunch get-together so that we could all spend some time with her new little man. So I decided that now would be a great time to try one of those overnight breakfast casseroles I keep reading about -- you know, the kind that you assemble the night before, pop in the fridge overnight, and then just pop in the oven the next morning? I read about people who make such casseroles for Christmas morning, because all you do in the morning is bake it, which leaves you free to enjoy Christmas morning with the fam while breakfast takes care of itself. So with visions of being a domestic goddess on Christmas morning dancing in my head, I decided to take one of these breakfast casseroles for a test drive.
There are two main categories of breakfast casseroles that I have encountered: sweet, meaning that it is more along the lines of waffles, pancakes, etc; or savory, meaning it is usually egg based, with meat, cheese and occasionally potatoes. Since eggs were already on the menu, I decided to save an egg-based casserole for another time, and concentrate on the sweet, in this case, a French Toast Casserole recipe modified from Paula Deen.
It has very simple ingredients: eggs, cream, milk, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, all assembled the night before, and the recipe also calls for a wonderful pecan praline topping that you sprinkle on right before baking. It is, essentially, a French Toast bread pudding.
First the bread: Paula calls for French bread, a 13oz-16oz loaf. Well, when I went to the store, all I could find was baguette, and a 12oz loaf at that. So I bought it. Better than nothing, amiright? However, this meant that I had already deviated from Paula's instructions without even meaning to. She calls for you to slice the bread into 20-1" slices, and arrange upright in two layers in a 9"x13" pan. I sliced my baguette into many more slices, since it was longer, but because the loaf and slices were so small, I had to: 1) downgrade to an 11"x7" pan; and 2) lay the slices flat, making 2 layers that way instead. And it worked fine, so don't fret if you can't find full-sized French bread.
Next, you combine the eggs, half and half, milk, vanilla, sugar, and spices. This recipe doesn't call for a lot of sugar in the custard, because you are going to be topping the casserole with praline and, presumably, syrup. If you don't want the praline topping, you could compensate by bumping up the sugar to 1/2C to 1C, depending on whether you still plan to use syrup. Or, you can put syrup or maple extract directly into the custard.
And then, evenly pour the custard over the bread.
Once you pour the custard on the bread, cover and refrigerate this overnight, let that bread soak up the liquid. The next morning, it will look like this:
Now, you can make the praline. Combine pecans, butter, brown sugar, maple syrup (the real stuff, if you have it), light corn syrup, and the spices.
Spread it over the surface of the casserole, and bake in a preheated oven. Because I made this in an 11"x7", mine was a little thicker, and I baked it for about 47 minutes. If you make it in a 9"x13", it will take closer to 40 minutes.
Sorry for the quality of the final pics, I was trying to take pics as I was serving the casserole. Just slice it up, and serve it, letting people put maple syrup over it just like regular French toast.
And it was yummy. Oh my, was it yummy.
The praline topping contrasted beautifully with the bread custard, and the maple syrup tied everything together. Although, as I said before, this dish can exist without the praline, but I'd bump the sugar in the filling up to at least a half cup if you decide to lay off the pecans. But I wouldn't. Lay off the pecans, that is, because the topping is just divinely rich and satisfying.
There are some other recipes out there that call for you to saute the bread/egg mixture before putting it in the casserole pan, and I am sure that is tasty too...but, this recipe is already super-yummy as is, and it is easy. Now, this casserole is rich, so it is definitely not meant to be an every day breakfast treat, but it really is a perfect casserole to make, especially for mornings when you want to spend the time with your family, and not over a stove.
French Toast Casserole
- 1- 13 to 16oz loaf of French bread
- 8 eggs
- 2 C half-and-half
- 1 C milk
- 2 tbls granulated sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 sticks butter, melted
- 1 C pecans
- 1 C brown sugar
- 2 tbls light corn syrup
- 1.2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- Slice bread into 1" thick slices (20 slices for a regular French loaf, more for a baguette).
- Arrange in a sprayed 9x13" pan in 2 layers (or in an 11x7" pan in 2 layers for a baguette)
- Combine eggs, half-and-half, milk sugar, vanilla and spices together
- Pour over the bread slices in the pan, covering evenly
- Cover pan and refrigerate overnight
- The next morning: preheat oven to 350F
- Make praline topping: combine pecans, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and spices together, tossing to coat nuts
- Take casserole out of fridge, and spread topping over casserole
- Bake for 40 minutes (45-50 in an 11x7" pan) until puffed and lightly golden
- Serve with maple syrup