Riverbend French Toast Casserole

Last week, I was invited to spend the weekend at a friend’s ranch outside of Waco, kids and all. My only contribution to the weekend was to handle breakfast one morning. The best solution for feeding a crowd, in my opinion, is a big breakfast casserole. I set about creating this one, and I have to say it is going to go into heavy rotation with my green chile and sausage breakfast casserole.  This was well received and got good reviews from the wee ones, teenage boys, and adults, alike. Riverbend is the name of the beautiful ranch owned by the Whitlows, our hosts, and thus this sweet breakfast staple will forever bear that name. It was a truly inspiring landscape.

In my initial French Toast recipe, which is as basic as it gets, I think I shot off about not liking French Toast Casseroles or other “gussified” French Toast creations. I’m now going to modify that statement to say…I love French Toast Casserole. I still don’t need gussified. But sometimes you need these dishes that can be prepared the night before. We all need them. We especially need them around the holidays.

In my “research” I decided to stay loyal to one of my favorite components of my French Toast which is Texas Toast bread. This is plain old grocery store white bread except that it is 1 inch thick. It is famous for its place in Texas barbeque joints and Dairy Queen baskets. Also, I am nostalgic because this is the bread my mother always used to make French Toast. Many opine that there are superior breads, like Challah, for French Toast Casserole. To that I will simply reply that I look forward to eating Challah bread French Toast Casserole the next time I am at your house. You may substitute it in this recipe if you like. But do notice how nicely my artificially square bread fits into my dish. I like the geometric perfection. No gaps.

Now, this is very important. Three layers of Texas Toast makes  a tall dish of bread. This recipe is designed to employ the entire loaf.  Hide the end pieces in the bottom layers for appearance sake. After layering, custard is poured over it. In the oven it puffs up nearly 3 inches over the top edge of the dish. You need a nice, deep baking dish to accomplish this. Otherwise you will have major spill-over and you will be sore with me. So, be warned, this is a massive breakfast casserole.

I like this for several reasons. First, there is a layer of brown sugar and butter at the bottom. I owe this trick to Grace-anne Greenblatt, a friend of my Natalie and my Mona. These are the gals that I meet at the YMCA every (most…okay, many…) mornings to do penance for my buttery lifestyle. When I mentioned that I was working on a French Toast Casserole, they both blurted out, “you have to try Grace-anne’s casserole…it is the best one in the world.” I had already worked out a plan for the majority of the recipe, but when I saw that she put a layer of brown  sugar and butter in the bottom of the pan, I had to follow suit. It is a stroke of brilliance.

After this, I layer the bread and put sugar and cinnamon between the layers as though I were making cinnamon rolls. This makes me very happy. It then spends the night in it’s custardy bath in the refrigerator.  This all comes out a bit early in the morning to come closer to room temperature before being topped with brown sugar and pecans…and going into the oven.

This took every bit of an hour and fifteen minutes to bake, so plan (wake up) accordingly. You will also want to allow time for it to fall and settle a little before serving it…at least 15 minutes.


Riverbend French Toast Casserole
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Recipe type: Breakfast
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 12
This only takes a few minutes to assemble but it needs several hours sitting in the refrigerator (or overnight) so plan accordingly.
Ingredients
Casserole
  • 1 loaf of Texas Toast (yes, the entire loaf)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 10 eggs
  • 2½ cups whole milk
  • 1¼ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
Topping
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup (or light corn syrup)
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. To “stale” the bread: If your bread is new and soft, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the bread slices on a cookie sheet or rimmed baking sheet, slightly overlapping, and let them dry in the oven for 15 minutes. Turn the bread and bake for another 15 minutes. The object is not to toast the bread, but to thoroughly dry it out. But, a little golden color is fine. Remove the bread from the oven.
  3. To assemble: Choose a deep 9” by 13” baking dish. Mix 4 tablespoons of melted butter and ¾ cup of brown sugar together. Spread the brown sugar and butter mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon. Divide the loaf of bread roughly into three parcels, with one a little smaller for the bottom layer, and one a little larger for the top layer. Place one layer of bread into the bottom of the baking dish. Cut whole slices of bread as necessary to cover the bottom. Sprinkle half of the sugar mixture on the bottom layer. Add a second layer of bread, cutting slices as necessary to fill the dish. Sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture onto this layer. Finally, place the remaining bread in the dish for the top layer.
  4. Blend together the eggs, milk, cream, and vanilla. Blend (or whisk) until there are no visible traces of yolk. Using great care, slowly pour the custard over the bread. The bread will absorb the liquid. Be sure to get all of the top layer wet. Use a spatula to lightly press down on the top layer to ensure that it gets soaked with the custard. Secure plastic wrap over the casserole dish and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and as long as overnight.
  5. Prior to baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dish from the refrigerator to allow it to warm up for at least 30 minutes.
  6. To prepare the topping: Mix the softened butter, brown sugar, maple syrup and pecans together. Distribute the topping evenly over the top of the casserole. Place the casserole on top of a sheet of aluminum foil and lift the edges. Place the casserole into the oven, ensuring that the foil is under it to prevent dripping. Bake until the middle of the casserole has an internal temperature of 170 degrees, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The casserole will puff up significantly during baking. Remove the dish from the oven and allow it to rest for 20 minutes prior to serving. Expect it to deflate a bit during this period.

Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Kelly says

    Maril, you are most welcome. I LOVE the idea of adding apples or pears to the casserole. So, you just layer the sauteed fruit under the bread, layer in the bread and then add the custard? I really like that plan. I will definitely try that. Thank you so much for sharing the idea.

  2. Maril says

    Kelly, I love reading and trying your recipes; thank you! I have been making an adored variation of ths recipe for many years. I sauté either apple or firm pear wedges in the butter – brown sugar mixture and add chopped pecans before putting into the bottom of the baking dish. Never ceases to win compliments and recipe requests!

  3. Lori Whitlow says

    Hi Kelly!!!
    I made this this morning at Riverbend to rave reviews, of course!!! And, as I prepared the topping this morning, I realized I was out of brown sugar (I had used it all last night preparing the casserole), but used maple sugar instead and it was fabulous! Thanks so much for this!!!
    Lori

  4. Candi says

    Thank you. This does help. We are going to try it this weekend since the whole family will be together, all 20 of us. :)

  5. Kelly says

    Gosh. Tough question. I’d probably use the term “souffle-like” but just because i like the way that sounds better. I think all French Toast is a little bit soggy, really. It seems to be part of the nature of the dish. Maybe that is just my French Toast, though. I wouldn’t say it is particularly soggy, but if you have an aversion to bread pudding, this is very similar.The texture is less souffle-like if you let it rest like I suggest in the recipe. And on day 2 it is not souffle like or soggy at all. I know that is not a good answer. My instinct is to say no, it isn’t soggy. But to the extent that any French toast is, this is too. I hope that helps a little bit.

  6. Katie Stutz says

    Enjoying this as we speak. What a lovely Christmas morning dish! I used salted butter to balance the sweetness (and satisfy my salty-sweet obsession) and served it with crispy bacon. “Gussified” just enough for us, and not too much for the kids. Thanks Kelly!

  7. Anna says

    I love this recipe. Christmas mornings are always special for us. One thing I am looking for when preparing dishes for Christmas breakfast is the aroma it will bring our kitchen and the whole house on that very special day. This aroma will be the scent that will drag the kids out of bed and signal the start of gift opening…
    This recipe is just fantastic! I m sure everyone will smell the butter, maple and pecans all together. Thanks for sharing! Page has been bookmarked!

  8. Elsa Rector says

    It’s too bad that I found a recipe for a breakfast casserole already for That Special Day. Mind has hash browns on the bottom, sausage, bacon, red and green bell pepper (for that Christmas touch) all drowned in the wonderful custard and topped with cheese. If I made your casserole as well, someone at the table would surely have a heart attack! The gang is going to have to settle for croissants and butter instead. Did I mention fruit?
    MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of you!

  9. Kelly says

    Marsha Annette…I hope the casserole works for your family. Thanks for reading my recipes. I particularly appreciate that you are using one of my recipes for a family gathering. I hope you find that it deserved a place at your table. It is a simple and good recipe and I hope all of your people like it. Merry Christmas!

  10. Susan says

    Hi,Kelly. Riverbend French Toast Casserole sounds wonderful. And who doesn’t love Texas Toast? I am always looking for casseroles, sweet and savory, that can sit overnight in the fridge. I’m planning on making it for Christmas morning.

  11. Marsha Annette says

    Hi Kelly,

    It is so nice to see a picture of you, feel like you are there talking us thru this. I read this recipe and my son and daughter in law from Houston will be coming in. She is a doctor and he has his own company in Houston so I am so fortunate to see them here for Christmas along with my other son and his wife who teaches in Round Rock, Texas. I love your blog because I can relate to the places you go for your supplies and the ranches, Waco, as I was just up in Dallas a few days ago and in San Antonio about last weekend to celebrate my 41st Anniversary. I live north of Austin so I get to enjoy a central location to travel everywhere to enjoy Texas. This is going to be one of my favorite recipes for company as I grew up on French Toast and made it for my sons even up in their 20′s and 30′s. The youngest still asks for it and Texas Toast is a staple at his house so this is so appropriate to take as a gift for making Christmas dinner tomorrow for all of us. I am lucky both boys are great cooks. I taught them early with Disney cookbooks for children. You can never start too early letting children boys, and girls in your kitchen to learn to cook if you make it fun for them.

    Thanks again for another wonderful recipe to make as a casserole, what a treat!!!

    Marsha Annette

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