Breakfast Bread Pudding: French Toast Baked in the Oven

I am not a French toast fan...I've always had issues with eggs and egg-y foods; they tend to make me a little nauseated unless I'm craving them. So, French toast is just not where it's at for me. Beyond being able to taste the "custard" too well, I just don't like the texture of the bread! Of course, always a polite guest, I eat what's been made for me...thank goodness...because if I had refused to try this French toast casserole, I would surely, surely be missing out. 

My best friend's parents own a cottage up in the thumb of Michigan where we absolutely love to spend hot summer weekends relaxing, barbecuing, drinking on the boat, and sitting by the bonfire. Short, up north vacations are a staple in Michigan, at least for those of us in the suburban, metro area. If we could spend every weekend at the cottage, we'd do nothing else. What's great about these trips with my particular friends is that we don't just allow ourselves to become completely lazy; there's a full kitchen to utilize and, no doubt, you'll find us making anything from a huge breakfast feast to homemade, from-scratch calzones. And, while I love to take charge of cooking, it's absolutely wonderful to have Megan's parents along, allowing us to wake up to the sweet aroma of her mother's French toast casserole and the savory goodness of her father's omelettes. 

As Mom C said, "Place the pan on the counter top and magically people begin to descend from the upper level of the cottage and start to devour!" I mean, why even bother waking up unless we can immediately feast ourselves upon her casserole!? Dense, moist, and sweet with bites of crisp caramelized brown sugar, this bread pudding is undoubtedly addictive. I ate so much more than I could handle, I had to lay on my side for half an hour to settle my stomach! And when I felt okay again...I finished the few pieces I'd left on my plate ;)

I've wanted this recipe for years now, but, of course, never remember to ask. I even tried to get my mom to help recreate it, but because I hadn't realized, at the time, that it's truly a bread pudding, my description kept getting lost in translation and all we could do is sadly fail. I just couldn't have my baby shower brunch without it, though, so I finally remembered to get the recipe from Mom C! Two days later, here it is in my kitchen...doubled in size not only as a sure-fire test for the shower, but to give Billy and I plenty of leftovers for freezing :) It's so simple, though, you could make this every weekend without feeling as if you've done any work. It will surely look like you made more effort, though!

Breakfast Bread Pudding (single recipe should serve about 4-6, depending on portion)

  • 1 loaf crusty bread (French, Italian, Challah...just make sure it's a crusty, dense bread, not soft, mushy Wonderbread!), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups half & half
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 tbsp real maple syrup (using just pancake syrup tastes great too or, as Mom C does, use pancake syrup in combination with maple extract)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional, if you're not into nuts)
*A note on variations: The options are endless with this recipe. Bread puddings have such a huge range of flavors, you can add just about any fruit or spice to suit your mood or palette. The next time I make it, I plan to use my homemade Challah with tons of cubed granny smith apples and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. Think about different fruits, nuts, and liquors you could add to the bread mixture or syrup and get experimenting!


This particular bread pudding is prepared the night before you plan to bake and serve it, though you can certainly bake it right away as many other recipes call for; I don't know exactly how that might change the texture, but I'm sure it would be delicious. Why leave yourself any morning work other than throwing it in the oven though? :) Basically, the night before baking, you'll combine the custard and bread in your pan, leave it to refrigerate overnight, and then you'll make the syrup topping in the morning and add it just before baking.

So, the night before you plan to serve...lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl until combined. Beat in the half and half, milk, and vanilla extract. Add bread cubes and gently toss to ensure all cubes are coated in the custard mixture (don't be afraid to get messy; your hands work best!). Leave to sit about five minutes to ensure the bread has soaked up enough custard, which is what will keep it super moist. 

Lightly grease a 9x13" pan (I used a ceramic one, which probably bakes similarly to glass; metal may simply give you more of a crust on the sides as they may crisp faster, but I'm sure results are just as wonderful) and lightly fill it, evenly, with the egg-soaked bread cubes. When I say to lightly fill it, I mean that you don't need to press and compact the cubes together; they should simply lay as they are within the pan, which will allow the syrup to seep into the crevices, filling the entire pan rather than simply laying on top of the whole mixture.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pull the casserole out of the fridge. If you're using a metal baking dish or one made with a temperature resistant material (meaning it can go from freezing cold temperatures into a hot oven without breaking or cracking), your casserole can go right into the oven when you're ready for it. If you're using a glass dish that you're unsure of, though, you may want to allow it time to come to room tempature; I'm no expert on baking materials, but would definitely be paranoid of my dish breaking! 

To prepare the syrup, melt the butter in a small saucepan; add the maple syrup and brown sugar, cooking and stirring until the sugar has melted into the butter and everything is incorporated nicely. If using, stir in pecans. Pour syrup evenly over entire casserole and bake, uncovered, for one hour. You should see that the bread has puffed up and turned a beautiful golden color with syrup bubbling throughout. Allow to cool at least five minutes (it should retain its heat well for much longer, too, especially if using a nice thick pan). 

To serve, simply cut as big a square as you think you can handle :)

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