This casserole is filled with everything you love about the classic, custard-soaked French toast from the stovetop, but goes big to feed a crowd and comes with a sweet, summery twist. It gets a double dose of berries, with bursts of warm strawberry jam in the center and glossy macerated berries on top, and melty nuggets of cream cheese scattered throughout.
It's sweet and well-balanced, standing firmly in breakfast territory, but should you want to top it with fresh whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream and present it as dessert, I guarantee no one at the table will object.
For the Best Casserole, Toast the Bread and Pack in Strawberries Two Ways
While day-old bread makes for the best French toast, it's worth going the extra step to toast the bread here. It makes for a casserole that brings you the best of both worlds — a bottom layer that's soft and custardy and a top layer that's glossed with custard but not soaked through, so that the bread gets wonderfully crisp and toasty.
To get the most bang for your buck, this breakfast casserole calls for both strawberry jam and fresh berries. Save the fresh farmers market berries for the topping, where they can really shine. Even if they're not perfectly ripe, giving the berries some time to macerate draws out their natural sweetness and rich flavor. Meanwhile, wallet-friendly strawberry jam is rippled throughout the casserole.
Get a head start by making it the night before, then stash it in the fridge to give the bread plenty of time to soak up all the custard. In the morning, all that's left to do is pop it in the oven. You might as well pop in a batch of bacon, too!
Strawberries and Cream French Toast Casserole
Serves 8 to 10
Prep time: 20 minutes ; cooking time: 50 minutes to 55 minutes
- For the macerated strawberries:
strawberries (1 pint), hulled and quartered
freshly squeezed lemon juice
- For the casserole:
challah or brioche bread (about 16 ounces), cut into 1-inch cubes
cold cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
strawberry jam, divided
pure vanilla extract
Powdered sugar, for serving
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir well until combined and the berries are evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast until dry and very lightly golden-brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
Coat a 9x13-inch or 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Add half of the bread to the baking dish and spread into an even layer. Arrange the cubes of cream cheese evenly over the layer of bread. Using a small spoon, dollop half the jam evenly over the bread. Arrange the remaining bread in an even layer over the jam.
Place the eggs, half-and-half, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until fully combined. Pour evenly over the bread, then gently press down with your hands to make sure all of the bread gets saturated. Dollop the remaining jam evenly over the top of the casserole.
Cover the baking dish and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
When ready to bake, 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.
Uncover and bake until the casserole is set, puffed, and the top is golden-brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside to cool for at least 5 minutes. Right before serving, stir the macerated strawberries and evenly spoon over the top of the casserole. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.
Make ahead: The casserole can be assembled up to 1 day in advance, covered, and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake. The macerated strawberries can be prepared and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 1 day in advance.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.