Honestly? This French Toast Casserole with Challah is one of the most requested recipes by my friends when I host a brunch gathering! It's creamy, moist, soft, scented with vanilla, and needs nothing more than a fork to enjoy.
When hosting company or a family gathering, being able to assemble this the night before and then baking it the next morning saves time and energy. It's simple to prepare and is a terrific meal or side dish to other dishes.
- vanilla bean pod
- challah or brioche
How to use a vanilla bean pod
While you can easily substitute vanilla bean paste in this recipe, I highly recommend spending a few extra dollars on a vanilla bean pod. Why? Because the fresh seeds inside give this recipe a depth of flavor and a huge hit of vanilla flavor! My favorite vanilla bean pod is this one.
- Using a sharp paring knife, make a cut down the length of the pod
- Open the pod slightly with your hands
- Using the sharp side of the knife, scrape down inside the pod taking care to grab each and every seed you can! Vanilla pods are expensive and this is all the flavor
The base of this French Toast Casserole with Challah recipe is a creamy decadent custard. While some may be intimidated making a custard, it is super simple! The first step is to heat the cream, half-and-half, along with the vanilla bean pod and the seeds taken from the interior of the pod. See the steps above for this. Just make sure that this base does not boil. It should come to a simmer on the stove and then you shut off the burners and let the vanilla step in the cream. This will add all the flavor to your base custard. Before you add this to your eggs, make sure you take the pod out of the cream!
While the cream is coming to a simmer on the stove, whisk the eggs and sugar together in a bowl. I use a bowl that has a "spout" on it so it will be easy to pour, like this one. However, you can use a ladle at the end as well.
Once you have whisked your eggs, you need to slowly add the cream mixture. This is the tricky part in making a custard because you need to be careful that you do not heat up the eggs or they will cook. The way you do this is by slowly adding spoonfuls of warm cream to the egg mixture and constantly whisking it until it is combined. Don't add too much at a time and you will be just fine. Once your eggs come up to the temperature of the cream you can add it all at the same time but again, be careful and keep an eye on the eggs. You don't want to add scrambled eggs into the mix!
Layer the challah or brioche into a 9x13 pan for the French Toast Casserole with Challah. I end up with two layers of bread. Then slowly pour the custard mixture over the bread. I use a ladle for this so I am making sure every nook and cranny of the bread is soaked! Cover and refrigerate this overnight.
Bake this off the next morning and serve either warm or at room temperature. Store covered in the refrigerator if you have any left over, lol!
French Toast Casserole with Challah
- 1 loaf Challah or Brioche bread
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 cups heavy cream
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- confectioners' sugar for dusting
- Slice bread into ½ inch thick slices
- Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla bean pod and seeds to a saucepan with the half-and-half, cream, eggs, sugar, and salt.
- Stir occasionally to make sure the cream mixture doesn't burn, boil, or stick to the bottom of the pan but becomes warm to the touch.
- When the cream mixture reaches a slow simmer, turn off the heat.
- Take the vanilla bean pod out of the cream mixture.
- Using a 9x13 baking dish, layer the bread across the bottom and into two layers.
- Pour the custard over the top, cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
- Uncover the casserole and place in the middle of the oven.
- Bake for 35 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and any custard is set.
- Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve warm or at room temp.
- You can add nuts, raisins, or any preserves before baking.
- You can substitute almond or oat milk for the half-and-half. Do not sub for the cream as it will change the custard.
- You can also cube the bread and bake it into a souffle dish to be more like a Challah Bread Pudding.
- Feel free to sub vanilla bean paste instead of a pod. Use 1 teaspoon for this recipe.