Strawberries ‘n’ Cream French Toast Casserole
Strawberries ‘n’ cream french toast casserole is another spring brunch recipe to consider! (25+ Easter recipe ideas are right this way.) We’re combining fresh strawberries with cream cheese, chunks of decadent challah bread, cinnamon, brown sugar, and heaps of strawberry compote. This layered breakfast is creamy, soft, warm, crisp, comforting, and ready for any and all of your spring brunches. ?
What I love most about french toast casseroles, and why I bake them so often, is the low maintenance factor. You’re not standing over the stove and cooking french toast for the whole family. You’re layering bread and egg in a pan and baking it. And, most notably, you’re doing most of the prep (which is minimal to begin with!) the night before. You can wake up groggy eyed and still half asleep to put breakfast in the oven. Or you can spend time with guests and family, Easter egg baskets, snuggled on the couch with your coffee, whatever! instead of working in the kitchen.
Soon enough, breakfast for a crowd will be ready. And BONUS: your kitchen will smell like you were baking all morning. How sneaky of you!
French toast casserole is easy and enjoyable. All things weekend brunch should be.
My latest french toast casserole combines what I love about my blueberry french toast casserole and my cream cheese french toast casserole: lots of berries, lots of texture, and lots of cream. I skipped the streusel topping to make room for a dusting of confectioners’ sugar and homemade strawberry compote. The strawberry compote, like the casserole itself, can be prepared ahead of time. It’s basically a homemade strawberry topping you can use for anything from pound cake and angel food cake to ice cream and pudding parfaits. Last year I served it with small batch cheesecake. Strawberry compote is quick, versatile, and brings a fresh factor to so many dishes. Try it.
Back to breakfast! This strawberries ‘n’ cream french toast casserole hits every delicious note on the texture scale:
- custard-y on the bottom
- pockets of creaminess
- juicy strawberries
- crisp on top
- not soggy. I repeat: not soggy!
Assemble the casserole the night before. To assemble, layer chunks of bread, dollops of a cream cheese mixture, and sliced/chopped strawberries together. Pour an egg custard all over the top, then cover and refrigerate overnight.
START WITH GOOD BREAD
Texture is our goal and using day-old bread will help us get there. I prefer using challah bread when I make french toast casserole, but sourdough or French bread work just as well. Homemade or store-bought, doesn’t matter. Just make sure the bread has some body. Flimsy white bread won’t get you anywhere. No matter which type of bread you use, make sure it’s a little crusty. Let it sit out on the counter for a day or 2 so it loses a little moisture and can hold onto the egg custard. The more egg custard the bread absorbs, the less soggy the french toast casserole will taste.
CREAM CHEESE MIXTURE
The cream cheese mixture is 3 ingredients: cream cheese, vanilla extract, and confectioners’ sugar. The reason I mix a little sugar and vanilla with the cream cheese is because without it, we’ll have random savory non-melted chunks of cream cheese in the dish. I explained this in my regular cream cheese french toast casserole recipe. It was good, but not very pleasant!
Bottom line: don’t leave out the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla in the cream cheese mixture.
EGG CUSTARD MIXTURE
The egg custard mixture is 5 ingredients: eggs, milk, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and brown sugar. Whisk it all together and pour on top.
Bake it all the next morning and serve it warm. A sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar finishes the textured beauty off. A creamy and lush strawberry masterpiece complete with a dusting of snow on top. Sizzle a little bacon and toss together a fruit salad on the side. Breakfast is served!
Fellow brunch-ers, let’s dig in!
- 1 (12-14 ounce) loaf french bread, sourdough bread, or challah
- 8 ounces (224g) full-fat block cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 2 Tablespoons (15g) confectioners’ sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
- 8 large eggs
- 2 cups (480ml) whole milk*
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2/3 cup (133g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 2 cups (325g) sliced or chopped strawberries
- optional for serving: confectioners’ sugar, strawberry compote, and/or maple syrup
- Grease a 9×13 baking pan with butter or spray with nonstick spray. Slice and cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Spread half of the cubes into the prepared baking pan.
- Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed until completely smooth. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until combined. Drop random spoonfuls of cream cheese mixture on top of the bread. Top with most of the strawberries (reserve a couple chopped strawberries for the top, for looks) and the remaining bread cubes. Place any reserved strawberries on top. Set aside.
- Whisk the eggs, milk, cinnamon, brown sugar, and remaining vanilla extract together until combined. Pour over the bread. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator for 3 hours – overnight. Overnight is best so the bread really soaks up that custard.
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Remove pan from the refrigerator.
- Bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown on top. I usually bake it for 45 minutes because I like it softer. If you notice the top browning too quickly as it bakes, loosely cover the pan with foil.
- Serve immediately. Cover leftovers tightly and store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
Make ahead tip: This dish is prepped ahead of time. Get started the night before because the casserole needs to sit in the refrigerator all night (see step 3). For freezing, prepare the recipe through step 3 and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator then bake as directed. Baked casserole can be frozen up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator and warm up in a 350°F (177°C) for 35 minutes or until warm in the center.
This french toast casserole recipe can be halved and baked in an 8 or 9-inch baking pan. The bake time will be slightly less, around 30-35 minutes.
Day-old crusty bread is best for french toast casseroles. I prefer challah bread. I slice it up and let it sit out all day. You’ll wind up with about 12 cups of cubed bread. A little more or less is OK, doesn’t have to be exact.
For the best flavor and texture, I prefer using whole milk. You can use any milk, dairy or non, but keep in mind the casserole won’t taste as rich with lower fat or skim milk.
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