Crusty bread, sprinkled liberally with cinnamon and sugar, soaked in a sweet custard, dolloped with cream cheese and strawberries and baked to perfection. If French toast is your thing, then this baked strawberry French toast, which takes less than 15 minutes to put together and no work at all the morning you want to serve it, is breakfast heaven.
I am not one to order French toast when we go out to brunch (I go savory 99% of the time), but I love the flexibility that a baked French toast casserole gives me when I cook brunch at home. It has a short list of ingredients, requires very little work to put together, and results in a dish that will feed a crowd. The edges are crusty, the middle is like a bread pudding, and there are hidden pockets of cream cheese goodness waiting in every bite. The strawberries here are like the icing on the cake, adding a burst of sweet-tart flavor to an otherwise rich and decadent dish. But if strawberries aren’t in season or available, this is still great on its own or with virtually any other fruit you have on hand.
This is the last in a series of posts about what I made for Mother’s Day this year (the others were this rhubarb snack cake and this bacon and asparagus frittata). I’ve made French toast casseroles before, usually when I’m hosting brunch for a crowd. I can remember my mom doing the same when we had company, and I distinctly remember her putting cream cheese in between the layers of bread for a creamy surprise. I was a kid who put cream cheese on everyone (Eggo waffles with cream cheese on top, anyone?), and she knew how to cook to her audience. I knew I wanted to do something similar, and added strawberries for their spring cheeriness. I made sure to rub cinnamon and sugar into both layers of bread, like Deb over at Smitten Kitchen taught me when I first started cooking brunch at home, and added a touch of vanilla to the custard mix. The result is a beautiful, creamy French toast that, while sweet, still has the tart charm of strawberries and the added richness of the cream cheese. It’s an easy, make ahead brunch dream.
- 1 loaf good crusty bread (I used challah)
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups strawberries, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 6 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- The night before you want to serve this, slice bread and place slices in two rows at the bottom of the pan. Overlap the slices slightly (you’ll likely have 4-5 pieces of bread per row). Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl, and sprinkle half of this mixture over the bread.
- Place the cream cheese in a mixing bowl and beat it with a hand mixer on medium-high speed until light and spreadable, about 2 minutes. Dollop it over the bread, making sure to get some on each piece. Sprinkle 1 ½ cups of the strawberries over the top.
- Spread another layer of bread over the top, then sprinkle it with the remaining brown sugar and cinnamon.
- In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract. Pour this carefully over the casserole. Go slowly so it doesn’t spill over the sides. Cover the casserole and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
- The next morning, preheat the oven to 350°F. Top the casserole with the remaining strawberries and bake it, uncovered, for 30 minutes.