The best baked French toast recipe, ever.
Let’s get right to the point: This sticky bun French toast casserole is one of the best things we’ve ever eaten. An overnight baked French toast that tastes just like a sticky bun, but with no hassle. Soak the bread in a cinnamon-sweet custard, bake, then smother with homemade pecan goo. Meet your new favorite breakfast recipe.
Why Overnight French Toast Casserole Is the Best French Toast
Baked French toast has two things going for it. First, moisture and texture. Soaking the bread overnight in a sweet custard creates a moist bread pudding that, when baked, stays tender and creamy — not dry.
Second, baked French toast saves lots of time. It’s a make-ahead meal in the best sense. Prepare the casserole and pecan goo the night before. In the morning, just preheat the oven, stick in the French toast, and let it bake. Meanwhile, you can relax over coffee instead of getting too busy in the kitchen.
How to Make the French Toast Casserole
This recipe has two components: the bread pudding/French toast casserole base, and the ooey, gooey pecan sticky bun caramel sauce topping. To make the casserole component:
- Get a loaf of challah bread. Challah is eggy and more dense than regular white sandwich bread, and makes the French toast rich and thick, without dissolving into a blob.
- Cut the challah into cubes, and let them stale. You can stale the bread cubes either by leaving them out uncovered on a countertop overnight, or by drying them in a 325 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Cool before using.
- Pour the eggy vanilla custard over the bread. Press the bread to ensure that everything is coated in liquid.
- Cover, and chill overnight in the fridge, or for about 8 hours. Then bake.
How to Make the Sticky Bun Topping
French toast, or “pain perdu” in French (meaning “forgotten bread” because the bread is a day old) would be delicious on its own of course, especially if topped with pure maple syrup or fresh whipped cream and berries.
The warm, gooey sticky bun topping puts this French toast casserole over the top. This recipe tastes just like sticky buns — without having to make actual sticky buns. In other words, all the flavor, for a lot less work.
To make the topping:
- Melt together the butter, dark brown sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup and salt.
- Bring to a boil and stir, cooking at a nice simmer for about 10 minutes, until it coats the back of a spoon.
- Stir in the nuts off of the heat, then pour over the baked French toast.
Baked Sticky Bun French Toast: Recipe Notes and Substitutions
What nuts can substitute for pecans? If you do not have pecans, the best alternative is walnuts. But feel free to substitute any personal favorite nut, such as almonds or cashews.
Do I have to let my bread get stale overnight? No! You can easily “stale” bread in the oven. Cut the bread into cubes, then bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit on a couple of baking sheets for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway. This will dry out the bread.
What if I don’t have challah? Challah makes a great French toast bread because it is denser and more eggy than “regular” sandwich bread, and has a soft crust that works well with the custard. But if you cannot find challah, try to find a brioche loaf. White sandwich bread would be the next-best substitution. Avoid super crusty artisan bread. The crust will not soften enough.
Do I need dark brown sugar? You can substitute light brown sugar instead of dark brown. The color will be lighter, and the flavor slightly less robust, but will still taste just as good.
As a final note, you can reheat this, even with the topping added. Heat in a 325 degree Fahrenheit oven until warmed through, about 45 minutes.
Love this French toast casserole? You’ll also love: J.F.K.’s Buttermilk Waffles and Sour Cream Crumb Cake
Baked Sticky Bun French Toast Casserole
For the French Toast Casserole
- 1 one-pound loaf challah bread
- 7 large eggs
- 2 1/4 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
For the Pecan Goo
- 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 2 cups dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups pecan halves and pieces
For the Baked French Toast Casserole
- Cut or tear the challah into 1-inch cubes. Divide onto two rimmed baking sheets and let sit uncovered overnight, or bake in a 325°F oven for 30 minutes, stirring halfway, until dried out and stale. Cool on baking sheets to room temperature.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, two tablespoons dark brown sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon.
- Grease a 9" x 13" casserole. Pour the challah pieces into the casserole, then pour the egg and cream custard evenly over the challah. Press the challah lightly to make sure all the bread is submerged. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight in the refrigerator, or for at least 8 hours
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Unwrap the unbaked casserole and bake, uncovered, for one hour, until puffed and golden brown. TIP: The challah will soufflé a bit at the end, but will settle back down once it is out of the oven.
For the Pecan Goo
- While the casserole is baking, make the gooey pecan topping.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the butter, corn syrup, heavy cream, dark brown sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil and cook, whisking very frequently, until the caramel coats the back of a spoon and holds a line when you drag a knife across it, about 10 minutes. PRO TIP: The caramel will thicken even further once it comes off the heat, so don't expect it to reach a gooey consistency while it's still bubbling away. Rather, dip a large spoon in the caramel and put it on a plate. Then, drag a line across the spoon with another utensil. If the caramel stays parted and the line does not close up again right away, you're good.
- Remove from heat and stir in the pecans. Keep warm until the French toast comes out of the oven.
- Remove the French toast casserole from the oven. Cool for 10 minutes. Pour the warm sticky bun goo all over the top of the casserole and serve.