Overnight French Toast Casserole

Warm fires, sweet cookies, festive packages, and lots of holiday cheer with family and friends—this is the picture-perfect scene we all hope for this time of year.

The grim reality is that many people are cold, hungry, and alone.

There’s a long way to go to right this wrong, yet I’m fortunate to live in a community where so many people give generously of their time and resources in order to help those in need. The record-setting $8.6 million earned in a single day last month through the Extraordinary Give is an impressive example. Day in and day out, our community’s generous spirit is also evidenced in many smaller but equally important ways.

Last August I wrote about Anchorage Breakfast Program, which operates out of downtown Lancaster’s First United Methodist Church and serves a hot meal to anyone in need, five days a week, 52 weeks of the year.

I volunteered for the program several times and was so impressed by the enthusiasm of the volunteers, the quality of the meals, and the appreciation of those who stood in line. During those summer mornings, people on both sides of the buffet repeatedly urged me to come back when Carole’s French toast casserole was on the menu. Clearly this was a fan favorite.

Carole Adkins, who serves as team leader every Wednesday and is the creative genius behind many of the crowd-pleasing recipes, strives to provide wholesome meals that are a little special, too. Like many of her recipes, this popular dish came about as a way to reinvent leftovers so nothing goes to waste. In this case, untouched toast from any given day is frozen until there’s enough to use as a base for the casseroles.

Shortly thereafter, I made the French toast for my family to rave reviews. The aroma while baking was tantalizing, and I considered the finished product worthy of a holiday meal—and thought my readers would likely agree.

The at-home version is dramatically scaled down from the sprawling pans used at Anchorage and can easily be prepped the night before with minimal ingredients. The casserole’s interior is tender and the brown sugar layer on the bottom becomes lightly caramelized and makes additional syrup unnecessary. The crispy edges on the top are my favorite.

Carole mentions that, nutritionally speaking, the French toast is better than it may appear: the eggs and milk supply protein and there’s no need to top with additional butter or syrup. She likes to round out the meal with a side of fruit and bacon or sausage.


Monetary donations are always welcome, but in the spirit of helping others over the holidays and beyond, I asked a teacher, a retired pastor, and a teenager how they would lend a meaningful hand. Following are some of their suggestions:

  • Schools are often aware of and seeking help for families in need. A call to your children’s school or your neighborhood school will likely uncover multiple ways to help.
  • Simply take time to listen, really listen, to a friend who may be struggling through the holidays for any number of reasons.
  • Donate warm coats, mittens, and blankets to a local shelter.
  • Offer to help a refugee negotiate things that are complicated, like food stamps, or things that we take for granted, like health care. Seeing how grateful refugees are to be in this country can be a reminder of the abundance we have as Americans.
  • Reach out to someone you know who might be especially lonely or sad this holiday season.
  • Shovel a neighbor’s driveway or rake their leaves.
  • Have your children select a toy to donate to Toys for Tots.
  • Do something to show that you recognize and appreciate the hard work of the people who serve us every day—your mail person, garbage collector, librarian, favorite store associate, etc.
  • Contact one of our colleges or universities and offer to care for an exchange student; inviting him or her to join your family for a holiday meal may help you see our country through a different set of lenses.
  • Locally, the Food Hub and the Clothing Bank at the Lancaster County Council of Churches always needs people to help. Consider spending a morning packing food bags, restocking clothing, assisting clients as they try on clothes, and/or serving a community meal. (To volunteer, contact Stefanie Wolownik, Director of Services at 717-690-8042 or email swolownik@lcchurches.org.)
  • To support its program, Anchorage is selling 12-ounce bags of coffee that have been locally roasted by Red Rose Coffee Roasters. Cost is $10.00 and they make a great gift.  Visit their website for more information.

Overnight French Toast Casserole
Yield: 9-12 servings
So simple and completely mouthwatering, this economical, prep-ahead meal is easy enough for a weekend breakfast yet worthy of a holiday brunch.
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup (132 grams) lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 10 ounces day old white bread, cubed* (about 8 cups)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (nonfat, 2%, whole, or almond all work well)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon over the melted butter, and gently stir to combine.

Evenly distribute the bread cubes over the brown sugar mixture.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk until well blended. Stir in the vanilla.

Pour the milk mixture over the bread. Gently press down on the bread or turn the pieces so they are all at least lightly moistened.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, place the casserole on the counter while the oven preheats to 350 degrees F. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes or until the casserole is set in the middle and golden brown on top.

Serve warm with a side of fruit, bacon, sausage, etc.


Notes & Tips

*Bread options: Pepperidge Farm classic white bread (not the thin slices) is a good option. Ten ounces of this variety is about 12 slices, including the crusts. Weight per slice does vary based on bread used, so I’ve provided several ways of measuring.  For a gluten-free option, Udi’s white bread is excellent. The structure of white bread (whether gluten-free or regular) is sturdier than whole wheat varieties, which tend to become mushy in this type of recipe. Feel free to use another bread with which you’ve had French toast success, like French or challah.

Slightly stale or dried out bread works especially well. When using fresh bread, I like to toast and cool it first or simply leave the slices on the counter for several hours before assembling the casserole. You can also cube the bread several days in advance and store in an airtight container—or freeze leftover odds and ends until ready to use.

I like to cut the pieces into roughly one-inch cubes. There is no need to remove the crusts and end pieces of the loaf may be used. (I think the crusty pieces enhance the overall texture.)

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

My immediate thought when I first made the French toast at home was that I would absolutely make this easy, economical, and truly delicious dish the centerpiece of a holiday meal.  It’s a true testament to the quality delivered by the many volunteers at Anchorage.

In the photo above, Carole is busily working in the Anchorage kitchen.  Below is one of the many trays that gets filled each morning.





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  1. Jennifer Post author

    I want to thank you for the delicious recipe. I have failed to find a simple breakfast recipe that you can prepare overnight and this one was a hit with my entire family. We have 5 kids (9-year old twins up to 17-years old) and all of them plus my husband loved it. That in itself is an accomplishment! I did make a small change to the recipe- I used 12 slices of Texas toast. It was delicious! I enjoy your column and plan to try the Crunch Salad next.

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Jennifer, Thanks so much for your thoughtful email. I’m so happy the recipe was a hit with your whole family and truly appreciate the feedback!