Lean on the season's abundance of sweet, ripe oranges to make this French toast casserole the hero of your holiday brunch. Cubes of brioche take the place of slices, and they're infused with the bright-sweet aroma of orange sugar to amp up the citrus flavor. To finish, an orange-infused maple syrup for drizzling turns this classic brunch favorite into a casserole for a crowd.
All the Ways to Orange
I'd argue that the very, very best part of an orange is its peel, specifically the zest. Often tossed away, this thin outer layer of skin is full of fragrant, citrusy oil. To ensure every bite of this casserole is infused with orange flavor, this recipe starts with orange sugar, which is made by rubbing finely grated zest into a few spoonfuls of sugar. Next, we're making a quick orange-maple syrup – an optional addition, but it's the holidays so we're not shying away from an extra step or two to make things special — and finishing the casserole with fresh chunks of juicy oranges.
Not only is this casserole the simplest solution for serving French toast to a crowd, but it also comes full of make-ahead potential. The casserole is best when prepared a day before serving, so all that's required come morning is popping the baking dish in the oven. Even the orange-infused maple syrup can be made in advance.
Orange-Maple French Toast Casserole
day-old brioche loaf (about 16 ounces), cut into 1-inch pieces
finely grated fresh orange zest (from about 2 medium oranges)
unsalted butter, divided, plus more for the baking dish
freshly squeezed orange juice
medium oranges, peeled and cut into segments
powdered sugar, for garnish (optional)
Generously coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with butter. Add the bread cubes to the dish and set aside.
Combine the orange zest and sugar in a small bowl. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it's well-combined and fragrant; set aside.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then whisk in the orange sugar, half-and-half, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Evenly pour the custard over the bread. Use a spoon to push the bread down and stir so all the cubes are soaked through. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Remove the baking dish from the refrigerator and let it sit while the oven is heating.
Cut 2 tablespoons of the butter into small pieces, and dot them over the top of the casserole. Bake uncovered until the casserole is set, puffed, and the top is golden-brown, 40 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the syrup. Combine the maple syrup, orange juice, and orange segments in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and remove from the heat. Once the syrup is mostly cooled, spoon the orange segments from the syrup and into a small bowl.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and let it cool for at least 5 minutes. Right before serving, top with the reserved orange segments and dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm with the orange-infused maple syrup.
Make ahead: The casserole can be assembled up to 1 day in advance, covered, and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake. The orange-maple syrup can be prepared up to 1 day in advance and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator until serving. Store the orange segments in a separate container.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.